Posted in:

A Tale of Two Conventions

Contributor Ted Faraone Discusses the Highs...and the Lows

Leni Riefenstahl could have choreographed Monday night at the Republican Convention. Tuesday night was its polar opposite. I watched PBS, which is about as a-political as a network can be. After all, the stage and crowd shots are the same no matter what the network is. It’s the commentary that differs, and I am far more interested in the political “pageantry.”

Never before have I seen in American politics a spectacle such as the Trumpistas and the RNC gave us Monday night in Cleveland. I have observed politics with interest since I was a kid — that’s over 50 years. The most offensive campaign tactic I remember occurred when I was eight years old. One of my school friends said, “Goldwater will make you go to school on Saturday.”

For a third grader that was a tough blow.

Monday night in Cleveland (sounds like the title of a busted cable pilot) came off as a knockoff of Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia.”

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions delivered an anti-trade and anti-immigrant tirade that could have been Goebbles’ warm-up speech for der Fuhrer. Then came Rudi Giuliani. He fulminated and made faces as if inspired by Benito Mussolini.

As one of the four living Eisenhower Republicans (two of the other three are both named Eisenhower: John [son] and David [grandson]), I am appalled at what happened.

Giuliani is no La Guardia. No one will ever name an airport after him. As I took notes Giuliani praised the great Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Not much of a leap to Mussolini, I should think. They both ran Libya. But Rudi needs to work on his act. He looked as if he were about to explode on the stage. Not a bit like the practiced poses of Hitler or Mussolini. Rudi ought to follow der Fuhrer’s example and spend more time in front of the mirror working on facial expressions and hand gestures.

Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, and their commentators looked like mid-1930s journalists and editorialists struggling to find something nice to say about the Nazis during the Olympics.

Giuliani said, “There is no next election.” Goebbles could not have put it better in the summer of 1933. Then he likened Donald Trump to Ronald Reagan. Nancy would have dumped all over him.

Beginning his speech Rudi said, “At last, a New Yorker on the ticket.” I guess he forgot about Theodore Roosevelt (1904), Charles Evans Hughes (1916), Governor Dewey (1944 & 1948), Eisenhower (1952), and Nixon (1968). And those are just the Republicans. I imagine that he did not get an A in high school American History.

TV cameras lingered on a young, female protester. It wasn’t the protest. It was the official reaction to it. A security guard and a very big guy did all they could to prevent the cameras from shooting her, including placing their hands a few inches in front of her face. It was like the Brownshirts vs. the Communists in the streets of Berlin less the beatings. No one out of earshot could hear what she had to say. No TV or Radio reporter bothered to mike her. I was waiting for the uniformed security guard to drag her away. I guess the organizers were smart enough not to try that stunt on camera. Where is Mike Wallace on the convention floor when you need him?

Then there was Melania caught plagiarizing Michelle Obama. It dominated the news cycle all day on Tuesday. (The Washington Post took it seriously enough to interview Jayson Blair, who pointed out from bitter experience what happens to plagiarists.) I guess Melania’s speechwriters forgot what happened to Joe Biden when he lifted from Tony Blair without credit during his own presidential bid. What’s the worst insult one could throw at her (according to Republicans, that is)? She stole from the best. Which makes me wonder if Michelle lifted it from someone else in 2008.

Following his wife’s fulsome and meretricious introduction The Donald emerged from a cloud of dry-ice vapor only to strike a “Washington Crossing The Delaware” profile pose with his Martha on the stage.

There was one grace note, which I hardly expected. A shout-out from the stage to former Senator and Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole brought the crowd to their feet. Dole, the war hero who suffers from Parkinson’s, had to be helped to stand up to acknowledge the crowd.

In terms of real vs. staged political theater there was a bit of a food fight over the rules. Unfortunately it was in the afternoon, not prime time. Convention big shots shot down on a voice vote a challenge to the rule that pledged delegates had to honor their pledges. Challengers vocally insisted on a roll-call vote. The temporary convention chair disappeared from the stage only to return several minutes later saying that the point was moot because three of the nine state delegations who requested the roll-call had withdrawn their request, thus reducing the number of delegations calling for the roll-call below the minimum of eight to force the issue. Makes one wonder what the quid for for the quo is.

Tuesday night could not have been more different. The party’s adults took over, and nobody took Marshall McCluhan’s 15 minutes, except for Donald, Jr. They kept it down to five each. Well scripted, they graciously failed to fulminate. Instead it was Stepford Wife after Stepford Wife. It began with footage of The Donald’s eldest son casting the votes that clinched the nomination for his dad.

Speaker after speaker bashed Hillary Clinton. The convention has nightly themes. Monday’s was “Make America Safe Again.” Tuesday’s was “Make America Work Again.” But there was little mention of jobs or the economy. Someone missed the memo.

Meanwhile, although this is not Chicago of 1968, a half-hearted protest broke out downtown in Cleveland. It was quickly quelled by police, according to Variety’s Cynthia Littleton. None of it showed up live on PBS.

At 9 pm Tuesday PBS mercifully cut away from the stage for interviews with Republican big shots. Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi, gave intelligent answers. Alas Woodruff cut Barbour off for the obligatory nominee video. At least it was short.

PBS made note of boos for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The crowd didn’t warm up to him until he bashed the Democrats as anti-woman, anti-military, and pro Zica virus. If only there had been a floor fight for the nomination! That would have been real reality TV.

Speaker Paul Ryan followed McConnell. He looked like a Boy Scout at a crap game. He was also the only speaker up to that point who invoked Ronald Reagan or bothered to talk about job growth. When he strayed into inclusivity and brotherhood among all people the delegates were unmoved. Woodruff called it, “a remarkable speech.” The convention set a low bar.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, drowned out PBS when their commentary actually became interesting. McCarthy (Kevin, not Charlie) closed by invoking Reagan, only the night’s second reference to the Gipper.

NJ Governor Chris Christie, in his role as former US Attorney, seemed to promise a sort of extra-judicial indictment of Hillary with the delegates as the trial jury. There was no defense. It was inquisitorial and greeted with shouts of “Guilty” at each count. Christie spoke before an orange backdrop. Either this was symbolic of orange jumpsuits or the Republicans don’t know that blue is the most audience-friendly TV backdrop. (Strange to say, but every female speaker who wore red had an orange backdrop. It doesn’t work.) The delegates repeatedly interrupted Christie chanting, “Lock Her Up!” It may as well have been “Give us Barabbas!” Christie clearly enjoyed his moment. David Brooks would later opine that it was Christie’s campaign speech for attorney general.

Just before 10 pm Tiffany Trump, The Donald’s grown daughter with ex-wife Marla Maples, emerged from obscurity to praise her dad. She looks a lot like her mom and spoke confidently before an off-white backdrop. Delegates ate it up. It reminded me of a eulogy.

Donald Trump, Jr., dressed like a 1950s Rat Packer, opened the 10 pmhour before the off-white backdrop in front of which his half-sister spoke. One had to give him credit for elocution. Could there be an election in his future?

Dr. Ben Carson seemed to accuse Hillary of Devil worship before a geometric pattern dominated by blue and gray. Delegates loved it.

At last real political theater erupted as a protester revealed a pink and white banner proclaiming “No Racism. No Hate.” Plainclothes security men seemed to be about to haul her away. One of them tried to cover her banner with the American flag. PBS cut away to Mark Shields just as things got interesting.

Monday night’s show ran about an hour-and-a-half over, thanks in large measure to a retired Lt. General who talked ad nauseam. TV cameras began to focus on empty seats as delegates left. Tuesday night the Republicans got off on the dot of 11 pm, right on time.

But compared to Monday’s theatrics Tuesday was like a “Father Knows Best” Reunion.