In the last thirty years, I have attended a number of California state-wide political conventions, mostly because my late wife, Pat Wiggins, was an active politician and officeholder. Much useful work was done at these conventions on identifying public policy ideas and in developing relationships, but they had very little effect on the selection of the Party’s nominees for the various state offices. But there was a time when conventions mattered…
In the summer of 1956, my family had just moved into our new home on Watt Avenue in Sacramento, right across from the bowling alley. My father had just surprised the family by bringing home a new television set to replace the cheap Kenwood model we had left behind in Beaumont, Texas. It was a surprise, because Dad had been reluctant to purchase any kind of TV set until about a year before we left Beaumont, and even then he brought home the cheapest possible model. When we got to Sacramento, and he brought home the Zenith, my sister and I were stunned.
It turned out that my father had an ulterior motive for his uncharacteristic investment in popular culture. He was a big supporter of Adlai Stevenson, and he wanted to watch the Democratic Convention to see if Stevenson was going to get a chance to lose again to Eisenhower.
I was captivated by the Convention. (My sister, who was only eight, was not.) In those days, you had a choice between NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley or CBS’s Walter Cronkite. My father was a Huntley and Brinkley fan, and for four days we watched them every chance we got. We listened to the speeches – Civil Rights was in the air, but support was muted because of the Democrat’s need to hang on to the supposedly Solid South. We heard famous men being interviewed from the floor, people like Harry Truman and Averill Harriman ( a Double Dactyl, but unfortunately, Harriman is too obscure these days for me to write one making fun of him.).
When the roll of state was called for the Presidential nomination on the third day, there was real drama, because no one could firmly predict what would happen. As the roll call went on, I kept score, as though I were at a baseball game, and when the tide started to turn clearly towards Stevenson, I got so excited that I jabbed the point of my pencil into my palm. ( I still have traces of graphite embedded under the skin.)
We need to find a way to make politics engaging again, instead of distancing. We should probably start by celebrating people like Elizabeth Warren. who stand for something besides positioning themselves to do well in a partisan primary.