Before we forget about Tampa, let's take a journey way back to 1956, when the National Broadcasting Company aired a "reality" television show so dead-souled and reprehensible that it should rightly absolve the clan Kardashian of having established certain precedents of televised societal decline in the HD era. The show of which we speak was, of course, "Queen for a Day," an interview-based game show in which a parade of destitute homemakers and housewives competed against one another for a grab bag of fancy prizes.
To win NBC's boodle, these women would have to tell their stories of misery to interviewer-host Jack Bailey -- and really sell their saga of destitution. The winners, determined by an "applause meter," would take home both practical swag like washing machines and aspirational gifts like family vacations. The winner would also be briefly crowned, throned and celebrated to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." We'd never hear from those women again, but that wasn't the point of the show. The important thing to take away was that all of the brands that had charitably supplied their wares to the network -- along with NBC itself -- were capable of changing lives.
At political conventions, the pomp and the circumstances work much the same way, except you swap out the charwomen of economic dislocation for millionaire politicians, competing to win the attention of billionaires and their donor network, for the purpose of branding a political campaign as in touch with the common man. Those who take the stage without stumbling, speak without faltering, and perform well enough to bring the delegates to rapture can go home with new political patrons and a higher profile.
And as with "Queen for a Day," the tale of humble upbringings and hardscrabble origins plays a big role on the convention stage. There's a reason the phrase "son of a mill worker" has more cultural currency than "father of a millionaire trial lawyer and skirt chaser."
While both conventions will inevitably put this phenomenon on display, Republicans have more work to do in demonstrating themselves to be "in touch with the people" -- simply because they are currently the party out of power in the executive branch. They rebounded in 2010 without a convention because they had an effective short cut: the words "Tea Party." But with those words all but banned from the stage in Tampa (too gauche for this high level of yacht-partying aristos), it fell to the convention's speakers to offer up themselves as the sons of sea and soil.
TIM PAWLENTY: "For much of his life, my dad was a truck driver. My mom was a homemaker. She died when I was 16, and my dad lost his job not long after that. And I was the only one of the five kids in our family who had a chance to go to college."
Pawlenty's father was in the Teamsters at a time when high union participation and low economic inequality was the norm.
TED CRUZ: "Fifty-five years ago, when my dad was a penniless teenage immigrant, thank God some well-meaning bureaucrat didn't put his arm around him and say, 'Let me take care of you. Let me give you a government check and make you dependent on government. And by the way, don't bother learning English.' That would have been the most destructive thing anyone could have done."
Is there an epidemic of such bureaucrats saying such things? I ask because the GOP platform doesn't actually address this.
RAND PAUL: "My great-grandfather, like many, came to this country in search of the American Dream. No sooner had he stepped off the boat than his father died."
Had this actually been an episode of "Queen for a Day," Rand would easily be on the inside track for a new refrigerator.
SUSANA MARTINEZ: "We grew up on the border and truly lived paycheck to paycheck. My dad was a Golden Gloves boxer in the Marine Corps, then a deputy sheriff. My mom worked as an office assistant. One day, they decided to start a security guard business. I thought they were absolutely crazy -- we literally had no savings -- but they always believed in the American Dream. So my dad worked to grow the business. My mom did the books at night. And at 18, I guarded the parking lot at the Catholic Church bingos."
And the central planners never did seize those bingo parlors, the end. Actually, this is a pretty great evocation of Romney's strategy for upward mobility: Borrow money from your relatives.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: "And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America. Her parents can't take her to a movie theater or a restaurant. But they make her believe that even though she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she can be president of the United States, and she becomes the secretary of state."
Legitimately stirring because it was stirringly true. There's a reason Rice left the stage with many wondering, "Why doesn't she run for president?" If we were Chris Christie or Marco Rubio, we'd be more than a little afraid.
-- Patrick Svitek and Nate Willis contributed reporting.
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