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'Boola-boola' and all that buncombe

By Richard L. Strout / July 25, 1980



Detroit

I am writing this in longhand on the top of an unpainted pine bench that might have been here at my first presidential nominating convention (was it '32 or '36?) I have run out of copy paper so I will use the back of Ronald Reagan's acceptance speech which has been distributed in advance up and down the press area. Down below in the delegates' section the state standards stand fixed, but everything else is in motion; there could be 20,000 in this enormous hall. Up in the extreme galleries the radio-television booths cling like birds' nests. Here on this row our neighbor is the Denver Post.

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This is a kind of self-conscious pandemonium; we are doing our act for television. Delegates wear funny hats and register exuberance, like classes at a college reunion. This is a sort of reunion, in a way; every four years it happens: it sends memory back to old performances: the plot is always different, the scenery is always the same. I watch the delegate with an enormous elephant head piece moving around; the woman in white with scarlet sash keeps time to the smashing band. It's endlessly playing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" alternating with "Boola-boola" (that's for George Bush). Banners and bands and buncombe, that's what conventions are made of and now and then a nugget of eloquence. In old days there were wide aisles for parades. "Spontaneous" demonstrations were turned on and off like a faucet. In 1912 Wilson's ovation outlasted Champ Clark's of an hour and 15 minutes, until 3:35 a.m. No parades today! It would waste prime time. Television is boss; just as startling to the 1930s would be air-conditioning; the old circus heat and smoke and smell are gone. No more acceptance speeches at two in the morning like Harry Truman's in Philadelphia in 1948. Prime time is ringmaster.

The press seats around me are half empty; where is everybody? Why, down in the canvas-walled newspaper booths of the "tent city" in Cobo Hall with television, the view is close-up and you can hear better, and there is Walter Cronkite and all the rest to tell you what is happening.

The crowd is so big you get a little lonely. You think of old days and old friends and typewriters clattering right here on the bench, and Carl Jetton ready to send the stuff to Boston in Morse code.

There is a yell! They have been balloting and the Bush nomination is over the top. Ho, hum. It ought to be exciting and isn't. Long ago the primaries picked Governor Reagan and he, after that Jerry Ford flop, picked Bush. The primary system is as revolutionary in its way in the political field as TV, or air-conditioning, is in the mechanical.

Now the result is announced. Surprise . . . It's Bush. In this row of 12 seats only six are occupied. Bang, goes the music: now the big scene, the set piece, like the climax of the fireworks display. This is the acceptance speech that goes across America to plains and prairies and mountains. Ronald Reagan begins. "Fellow citizens . . ." He does not use oratorical tricks; it is a quiet, effective delivery with reserved emotion, like a father talking to a family -- calmly and confidently. It sets forth his views; it is a long speech, about 4,500 words. There is frequent applause. It ends with a surprising three-paragraph quotation from Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 -- begging for reduced size and cost of government. Is this ironical or appeal? FDR pledged economy, just as Governor Reagan does, and then went on to be the biggest spender of all time. It is puzzling.

At 10:21 he finishes . . . Band -- tumult! A Niagara of balloons cascades from the rafters, red, white, and blue -- a huge childrens' party, immediately followed by a sound like corn popping. The familiar scene follows: the dancing signs, the people on chairs, the crowd singing.

It's a bit wistful. I have seen this climax before with many old comrades: Don Richardson and Saville Davis; Joe Harsch and Erwin Canham; Roscoe Drummond and Neal Stanford and Mary Hornaday. Colleges graduate their classes quadrennially, too, don't they? It's something like that for reporters every fourth year at political conventions: the event recalls old days and shared experience -- Jo Ripley; Bill Stringer; Courtney Sheldon, and all the others.

Well, old-timers, I will do something just for you. I will take my ball-point and on this unpainted pine plank, at seat A F-6 E4, in all this hubbub, I will write something private that only you will understand: "Here again "The Christian Science Monitor "July 17, 1980."