Let the Conventions Begin

Three observations from a convention veteran


As a veteran of 14 national political conventions–seven in each party–let me offer you, dear readers, a few brief observations. As usual, they will be somewhat contrarian and anti-conventional wisdom–which is my bent–but nonetheless true, I believe.

Enjoy the convention but take nothing too seriously, except for John Kerry’s speech on Thursday night

Pity our friends in the news media. They have to cover four days of pretty much nothing. They have to talk about something, though, and so they will understandably read great meaning into every jot and tittle, analyzing each convention speech as though the fate of the nation depended on it, and gossiping in that inside-the-Beltway manner that makes sense to the players and leaves many viewers and readers scratching their heads.

What matters is not the “big ticket” speeches (save Kerry’s) and media focus on the personalities of the day, but rather the overall general impression given to the viewers and readers at home

Most Americans with non-political lives will, at most, dip briefly in and out of the coverage. There is no real news and all the major decisions were made weeks and months ago. Therefore, the important question is: What sense of the convention will distracted voters derive from their short encounters with it? From the Democrats’ perspective, they will learn about John Kerry, make a personal and emotional connection with him, see more uplifting rhetoric than vicious Bush-bashing, and draw the conclusion that Kerry will govern more moderately than his very liberal Senate voting record. This is a big agenda, but eminently do-able in a completely scripted, totally unified party convention.

The chances of John Kerry succeeding in his Thursday night speech are 99.9 percent

The Crystal Ball would like to ask you a question: If you had hundreds and hundreds of personal and party aides trying to make you look and sound good in one speech, with thousands of totally committed partisans in a convention hall aching to cheer even your most banal observations, do you think you’d be able to accomplish your goal, which has a low threshold of acceptability anyway? You know the answer. And the network anchors feel obligated to give the nominee his night, so criticisms will be mild or totally non-existent, while we will hear over and over again those brilliantly creative sentences, “Kerry knocked it out of the ballpark. It’s a homerun. He did what he had to do. He gave the speech of his life.”

That’s all for now. Your Crystal Ball will be well represented in Boston (and later New York). We recognize that you will be inundated with analysis all week, so we’ll be kind and thoughtful and restrained–for a bunch of junkies! May you all, Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike, appreciate the week for what it is: a vital part of the most successful political system ever devised by the mind of man.