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For the next two weeks, the political world will focus intensely on Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., while millions of Americans wonder why CBS isn’t showing The Mentalist. The national party conventions are huge, staged, vapid and nearly useless. And I love them.
Let’s start with the two parts of the convention I don’t care for. It’s inexcusable that each convention gets more than $18 million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, plus the costs of Secret Service protection.
I also don’t have much use for the platform fights that precede the conventions. Party activists spend an inordinate amount of time crafting a document that will only be read by opposition researchers. You decide the direction and priorities of your party through primaries, not through platforms.
In 2000, I drove down to Philadelphia to give GOP Chairman Steve Duprey a hand. I wasn’t too many years out of college, so I spent the week touring the finer couches and futons of my college friends. The New Hampshire delegation was dominated by John McCain people, since he won the New Hampshire primary. They actually got a decent hotel location, Arch Street near the Mint and Independence Hall. But their seats at the First Union Center were halfway to Delaware.
What happens inside the stadium is literally political theater, with sets, and props and stage directions. My current boss, Charlie Arlinghaus was a floor manager for the Republican National Committee. They all wore bright orange W. hats, for George W. Bush. CNN anchor Bernie Shaw was marveling at how well the GOP floor was being run, and he tried to point out how the guys in the orange hats were choreographing the action.
That’s when Charlie heard Brian McCabe’s voice in his earpiece, “All call, all call, remove your hats!” In an instant, there wasn’t a speck of orange on the floor, as an astounded Shaw proclaimed, “Oh my God, they took them all off.” You don’t want to audience peeking behind the curtain, even if it’s to admire how well you’re running the show.
By 2004, I actually ponied up for a hotel room in New York City. The New Hampshire delegation was staying
at the Willard Intercontinental, which was also one of the hotels being used for the U.S. Open. Have you ever found yourself unexpectedly standing next to Maria Sharapova? It’s disconcerting.
I was the ticket guy for the delegation. Conventions events operate in a cashless economy. There are delegate passes on the floor, alternate passes for the stands, and guest passes in the nosebleed seats.
If you get inside the building, you can try to work your way into one of dozens of VIP boxes. If you had a pass that was going to go unused, I’d find someone who could fill that seat.
But the real action was for the parties outside Madison Square Garden. Presidential candidates looking ahead four years showered attention on the New Hampshire delegation, and I’m sure Iowa and South Carolina too.
The hot ticket in 2004 was the Pataki Pass, which got you into four separate events hosted by the former New York governor.
Ruth Griffin, the former New Hampshire executive councilor, was very excited to see Hugh Jackman in The Boy from Oz. I can’t remember what I had to give up for that.
I scrounged Lynyrd Skynard tickets for GOP Executive Director Jen Wrobleski, which she inexplicably gave away to a party honcho. It’s still a sore point between us. A guy from Alabama, I think, needed Brooks and Dunn tickets for his boss so badly that he gave me two VIP tickets to Kid Rock. We somehow got a dozen people into the VIP section at the Martina McBride concert, even though we only had two VIP tickets.
At the RNC, they play both kinds of music: country and western.
What I remember most from New York is walking through Central Park with my college roommate as he heckled protesters and watching the sunset reflect off the Manhattan skyline from the deck of the USS Intrepid. If you check off that $3 box for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund on your federal taxes, thanks for the memories.
Political conventions may be staged, and they may be mostly about entertaining the party faithful. But I like that in an age of petty politics and insignificant news cycles, the candidates competing for the most powerful office in the world have a chance to make their best case for your vote. That’s while I’ll be watching every night of both conventions.
Besides, I don’t have tickets to any of the good parties this year.
Grant Bosse is vice president for media for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Concord.
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