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Darrell Huckaby: Political conventions of old were high drama

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

So the Republican National Convention is beginning in Tampa this weekend at the same time a hurricane may or may not be striking the city by the bay. In the days before the Enlightenment the general populace would insist that the big storm was a sure sign that God wanted Obama to win the presidency. Come to think of it, there might be a few non-enlightened people who still feel that way. I am not among them.

I have said many times that next to college football and women's beach volleyball, politics is my favorite spectator sport. There was a time when I would have been glued to the television set watching every speech and every demonstration. Political conventions were a big deal during the days of my youth because they meant something. The party's presidential candidate was actually chosen by the delegates at the convention.

Besides, all other programming was pre-empted in the days of VHS-only television and if you watched television at all, you watched the convention. Most people watched whether they were interested in politics or not because you had to have something to keep your mind occupied while you shelled purple-hulled peas.

Honesty compels me to admit that when I first started watching politics on television I knew nothing about parties or platforms or the issues of the day. All I knew was that we were Democrats in my house because the Republicans had occupied the South after the War of Northern Aggression and that FDR had been a Democrat and he turned the lights on in rural Georgia with the creation of the REA. Besides, Gene Talmadge had been a Democrat and everyone knew that the "poor Georgia dirt farmer only had three friends he could trust; God, Sears-Roebuck and Ol' Gene."

I came from a long line of poor Georgia dirt farmers. Becoming lintheads was a step up for my family.

So we would watch the Democratic Convention especially close because they were picking "our candidate." I fell in love with politics, I think, during the 1960 Democratic Convention. The crowd shots looked so exciting with everyone wearing straw hats and clothing adorned with stars and stripes. I have to assume the outfits were red, white and blue because on our black-and-white television screen they were varying shades of gray.

The delegations from the various states would hold up those tall four-sided signs with their state names emblazoned on them. I always assumed as a little kid that I would be one of those sign-carrying delegates on the convention floor one day, but I never have been. I also assumed that I would be president one day, too, and that hasn't happened either. It may not be too late, though. Feel free to write me in.

My favorite part of the convention would be the roll call. That's where they would call the name of each state and a spontaneous demonstration would break out. Folks would be screaming and shouting and cheering and playing music and dancing up and down and throwing confetti and I don't know what all. Then they would finally settle down and someone with a booming voice would say, "Mr. Chairman, the great state of Georgia," for instance, followed by all sorts of facts about whatever particular great state they were talking about, "casts all (pick a number) of our delegates for -- " and then they would tell who they were casting their votes for. Sometimes, of course, a roll call would be held and no candidate would get a majority. Then they would have to caucus for a while and the top candidates would vie for the votes of the lesser candidate. It was always very dramatic.

Eventually one person or another would get enough votes to put him "over the top," and that's when the fun really began. Balloons would drop and they'd play "Happy Days are Here Again" and we would know, finally, who the party's candidate was going to be.

I suppose we watched the Republican conventions, too, but I honestly can't remember them -- not back in the '50s and '60s.

The '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago is also burned into my memory, but not for positive reasons. There was racial strife and Vietnam War protests and riots and burning and looting. I thought the whole country was coming apart at the seams, but somehow we survived.

The 1988 Democratic Convention was held in Atlanta, in the old Omni, and even though Jimmy Carter had broke me of being a Democrat by then, my lovely wife, Lisa, and I drove to Atlanta and walked in and out of all the big downtown hotels just to be in the excitement. We were in the Marriott Marquis and decided to take an elevator ride and somehow wound up in Jesse Jackson's hotel suite. We were like Lucy Ricardo. We had lots of 'splainin' to do to the Secret Service.

Nowadays, of course, everyone knows who the nominees of the respective parties will be, so the conventions aren't as much fun. The networks provide very little coverage and I didn't grow any purple hull peas this year. I'll probably still watch a little, though -- just like I will watch the folks who gather in Charlotte next month.

I still agree with Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried."

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.