Why do I need these stupid titles anyway?

God, I miss the old conventions. Even when they were just a mask for backroom power games they made for rougher, more joyous theater than the neutered and stop-watched political ads we have today. You could smell the stink of those old-time halls, especially when you saw them in flickering black and white, with the songs and chants and roars of approval billowing from points unknown out there in the shadows, and the cumuli clouds of cigarette smoke suggesting that someone had just set off a pipe bomb in the upper balconies. They were long, often compulsively watchable affairs that lasted four straight evenings and ran deep into the night with only the rarest cuts to commercial, culminating in the growing excitement and national nuttiness of the roll-call vote, with Sturgesesque eccentrics hogging the camera to recite the glories of the Florida citrus-grower or New England mackerel as the speaker banged his gavel to hurry the bidding along. The bosses might be pulling the strings but there always seemed to be an unscripted outbreak of passionate futile attachment to some upstart candidate or plank, so that viewers had to gain a down and dirty understanding of parliamentary procedure akin to our quadrennial appreciation for the subtleties of the triple lutz. It was predictable if maddening when the networks declined to play along with the parties’ determination to avoid appearing disunified (a hootable lie to begin with), but it also killed forever the knowledge that the convulsive, whiplash action on your screen was something real. Listening to Dan Rather recite this year’s balloon count from his note-cards just doesn’t stand up to Chet Huntley, a cigarette burning by his side, walking you through the intricacies of the chaos, or a seasoned reporter, weighted down by Mickey-Mouse-ear headphones and a microphone the size of a cheerleader’s baton, searching for a scoop amongst a thousand braying delegates clad in boaters, suspenders, and star-spangled moo-moos. The old and new conventions are as different as Sinatra’s versus Siegfried and Roy’s Las Vegas.

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