Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Political Conventions

My father brought home our first television in the early 50s, when I was in elementary school.  The world began to open up to us.  I recall my brother and I sitting in front of the blond wood cabinet with the small picture tube screen as we watched the test pattern.  No, it wasn't because we found the test pattern fascinating, just the fact that it actually existed thrilled us with the promise of the next "show".  Television was so novel at the time that we endured all kinds of entertainment just to watch the miraculous invention.  We watched wrestling shows with our grandfather, black and white cartoons, news shows - anything and everything was wonderful.  Of course, cable tv didn't exist at the time, and some sort of antenna was necessary to get a signal.  The first of our antennas was a set of rabbit ears that had to be constantly reconfigured depending on the season, the tv station, and the weather. Frequently, aluminum foil was attached to the "ears" for better reception.  The pictures were black and white and many shades of gray, mostly the latter, and were usually quite fuzzy. Channel 13, WQED, was the first tv station we were able to watch, followed by KDKA, Channel 2.

The first political conventions were broadcast on tv in 1948.  Prior to that, we listened on the radio.  Because this was post-World War II America, patriotism was a big deal, even among kids. We went to parades on national holidays; we placed our right hands proudly over our hearts during the National Anthem or when a flag was carried past us;  we listened to our parents and grandparents discussing politics and news.  This is probably why I, at age 6, wanted to marry President Harry S. Truman.  It also explains why I watched the political conventions of 1956, and those of every presidential election year thereafter.

I am always amazed at the number of people who do not watch this part of the political process in the USA. I heard someone say this may be the last year for the conventions, and that makes me quite sad.  Today, there is more interest in celebrities and gadgets than there is in the mechanics of our Republic.  I am fearful that the lack of interest may well be the cause of the fall of our great society.  Young people today do not have a grasp on how our system works, or why it has enabled our country to become the most successful economic/political system in the world.  In the early years of television, the political conventions were shown in their entirety.  Today, the major networks only cover an hour or two of the action.  What was once an interesting look at how a president gets elected, is now considered boring by the public.  The politicians also didn't like the way their wheeling and dealing  was shown to the voting public, and so coverage gradually decreased.

I miss the days of Walter Cronkite commentating (but not when someone on the dais was speaking, as they do today).  I miss the excitement of the beginning of the presidential campaign, because candidates were chosen at the conventions and the campaigning began after the convention.  It certainly was a lot cheaper than it is today, and it also meant the sitting President was actually presiding over the country instead of campaigning for two of his four years in office.  Some things just don't get better over time.

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