Walking around Tampa, Fla., on Monday, the first (originally) scheduled day of the 2012 Republican National Convention, you don't see many signs of Tropical Storm Isaac's wrath -- yesterday's intermittent downpours and high winds have all but disappeared, leaving what few convention-goers are milling around the Tampa Bay Times Forum more concerned about the high humidity. It seems clear that had the convention planners decided to go ahead with the original schedule of events, it would have likely come off without a hitch. (Though it's still very wise of the planners to err on the side of caution.)
But even though Isaac will miss Tampa, it's still steaming in the direction of the Gulf Coasts, New Orleans and history. And so nobody's ruled out the possibility that the convention -- sun-swaddled or not -- will be cancelled. As The Boston Globe reported this morning:
A conference call at 5:45 p.m. Sunday spelled out the adjusted schedule for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday after organizers earlier decided to cancel Monday’s opening convention session.
But the series of conversations -- occurring just hours later -- made clear that the Romney staff also realizes that Isaac’s potentially horrid wrath could eclipse any bunting-draped imagery they generate inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
And depending on how "horrid" the "wrath" is, these troubling juxtapositions might continue well into next week, forcing President Barack Obama to decide whether he, too, will wrap himself in the pageantry of the Democratic National Convention, at a time when his administration might be playing a major role in assisting the citizens of the Gulf Coast from a potential recovery.
What Isaac has proven is that there's really no need to have a four-day long political convention. But the better question might be -- should we have these at all? At least during hurricane season? This is the second presidential election with a convention impacted by a hurricane. In 2008, Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) nomination was delayed for one day because of Hurricane Gustav's landfall in Cocodrie, La. (The cancellation was more of a show of sympathy than a convention-related concern -- in 2008, Republican National Convention organizers were smart enough to hold their gala in St. Paul, Minn., which is about as far from a hurricane as you can get in the lower 48.)
If there's one thing that the threatening storm has put into high relief, it's that there is absolutely nothing high-stakes going on at either of these conventions. About the only lingering concern anyone has here at the Republican National Convention is whether or not the members of Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) faction will go quietly or make a fuss. There's little concern of a genuine floor fight, and frankly there hasn't been that concern for years. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, there was brief attention given to Hillary Clinton leading the New York State delegation in casting its votes for then-Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) -- but there was nothing at risk in that moment, it was simply the rival that Obama had defeated officially quashing their rivalry.
Right now, if some sort of "news" happened at these conventions, it will be because some part of a rigorously scripted event goes haywire. The point of these things is not to surprise (Donald Trump's sense of whimsy notwithstanding) -- it's to pour several thousand gallons of pablum on the floor of a conventional hall and then drop some balloons on it.
Over at Time's Swampland blog, Mike Murphy is feeling me:
Political conventions are over. Once, they meant something. I’d leap into the most terrifying of time machines to attend an old-school political convention with armies of local pols battling it out under a thick cloud of blue tobacco smoke in a stuffy convention hall, while the string-pulling bosses cut pragmatic deals over whiskey and judicial appointments in lavish hotel suites. Those conventions had drama because outcomes were unknown and stakes were high. Today delegates are bound through the application of TV-ad-ratings points, not machine deals. Delegates sit in the hall like background actors on a TV show, milling about to the director’s orders, wearing costumes and being denied a single line. It seems like a shabby ending to a great tradition. It’s time for a mercy killing.
To top all of this off, these conventions are costing taxpayers $136 million to put on, an especially nagging data point, considering the fact that they will take place in the lengthening shadow of a prolonged economic crisis.
So what really is the point of sending hundreds of people across the country to a pair of unfamiliar cities for two weeks to watch the nominees you expect to get nominated get nominated, all while enunciating the exact policy positions you've long been trained to expect? The answer, as far as Tampa's moveable political feast, is probably somewhere between the tables of nearby Jackson's Bistro:
The massive restaurant will close to the public for the whole week of the Republican National Convention, owners say, and serve a single customer: One unnamed lobbyist from Washington who will host breakfast, lunches and dinners throughout the week for hundreds of VIPs.
"The whole place will become something of a hospitality suite," said Jackson's owner Gregory Stinson. "They'll be entertaining politicians and people involved in government from all over the world."
So that's what this is -- a gigantic political-themed family reunion, with influence peddlers.
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