What a difference a day, a week, a month make! Let's not even talk about tomorrow!
How things have transformed since the Democratic National Convention only a month ago!
Both conventions passed and the issue of immigration, so dominant just a few months ago, did not even surface in the discussions. And this in the most diverse society in the history of this country and that too, with two self-qualified mavericks on their party's tickets. It is foolish for us to think this is an election based on issues. Only losers think of issues. As Rick Davis, the Chair of John McCain's campaign, said, this election is not about issues, it is about personalities.
Conventions become distant memories once the general campaigns begin. In rare cases, such as the 1992 declaration of the culture war by the Republicans, the convention ends up casting a large shadow over the election. They are occasions to rally the converted and make sure the parties have the firepower needed to move the electorate to victory.
The first day of the Republican convention was lost to the hurricane. President Bush was whisked away rapidly from the stage even though he did not appear in person, and McCain's rambling speech on the last day was a test in tolerance. All things considered, it was Sarah Palin's convention and she did rise up to it.
The Democratic Convention in Denver seemed energetic, but even before we could pack our bags to leave town, McCain's dramatic Palin pick had already made the convention, its historic nature and the Obama speech all distant memory,
Conventions become a part of voluntary memory of the nation. They are hardly remembered during the voting process. For political junkies, they are a treasure of trivia as much as fodder for forecasting. But mostly, political conventions are mass rituals, huge spectacles aimed at boosting everyone's spirits up. To that end, we measure the success of conventions on the thrill they produce. And yes, symbolism is ours to take home and chew on.
This sense of "history" was palpable. Our lot comes from numbers (numerical and monetary) and the Democrats have been hospitable so far. In coming years, as our numbers grow and more Indian Americans enter electoral politics, we will pass ever more thresholds.
One drama of the Democratic convention was the so-called "Hillary" factor. The delegates awaited signs on whether she would throw her support behind Obama. As they were clearly not the insiders in the machinations that were at work behind the scenes, the drama ended quite anti-climactically as she orchestrated both: the feat of entering her name in the balloting process and then gamely adding her name to his supporters.
Both party conventions are contained in a sports stadium for ice hockey or basketball. Each delegation sits separately with its paraphernalia, mostly without any attention, mulling around their chairs. The entire space is littered with well-positioned TV cameras, which do a great job projecting an image of grandeur to an event that is actually contained and far less expansive. The TV screen at home makes it appear a lot bigger for which we ought to thank the technology of camera, which makes the spectacle possible.
It is a good idea to ask yourself: what does all this have to do with voting or social change? The idea, one assumes, is to be as festive as possible. It is to rally the troops for battle. You see a strange mix of people who are watching others, which seems to be the main purpose of their "participation," and those who love being watched. Delegates often come in garbs and hats, fluffily flirting with fame. They are a sight to behold and they absolutely never mind being paraded around the floor, posing with others. It is perfectly okay to have a miniature Abe Lincoln on your arms, because we rarely think of this as having a "monkey" on your shoulder.
The convention stage marks a major achievement in the spectacular quality of the event. For the most part, outside of TV primetime, is resembles a high school entertainment show, with a huge budget. It is a party to celebrate the greatness of the nominee, to emphasize his larger than life presence in the hall. Very few people pay attention to the proceedings, as they are busy either being photographed or engaged in some form of politicking on the floor. But it is showbiz all the same.
For the most part, the convention is a dull and boring event. That is, if you pay attention to the proceedings. It is more a ritual of the willing and less an event that inspires or aspires for anything. There is often more activity outside the hall, in the corridors that force the politicians and film stars to move around with their posse and for the rest to grab a bite or a drink. It is a schmooze fest if you can ignore the main stage until primetime comes around.
The third night at the Pepsi Center culminated in the formal acceptance by Joe Biden of his vice presidential nomination. The newsmaker of the night was the Big Dog himself, former Pres. Bill Clinton. Relishing each moment he had on stage and in front of the TV cameras, he owned the party that night. He sanctioned the selection of Joe Biden and was characteristically measured, but overtly generous in his approval of Obama. There were other speakers for the night who spoke to beef up their resumes or enter small notes in the history books.
It is some measure of the historic nature of this convention and also a testimony to the confidence and popularity of the Democratic Party's nominee that the final day was held in Invesco field, a football stadium not too far from the earlier events to accommodate an estimated crowd of 80,000, the largest ever in convention history.
It was a grand event, much too large for an observer to absorb. The stage underscored the showbiz quality of the convention and the pomp of the organizers. The so called Greek columns, the special stage erected just for this event, and the vast, expansive audience already announced that the spectacle was far from the ordinary. It was touted for another historic significance, as it was held on the day of the 45 anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington D. C.
That single historic quality of the event was not lost on the audience gathered there. Although held in a city in the West, with a relatively small Black population, the audience was well tuned to its historic character, never mind their political affiliations.
The pomp and the spectacle of the event culminated in the fireworks, hitherto unseen at conventions. At the Democratic convention fireworks displaced the usual shower of balloons, oversized balloons, which buried the crowd at the Republican convention the following week. Fireworks and balloons. They are both the symbols and the substance of political conventions - all air and flashes.