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Party conventions evoke memories

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The Republicans’ and Democrats’ latest soirees spark remembrances of other conventions.

My first awareness of a national party’s political convention was through documentaries of the 1964 GOP blowout in San Francisco, in which presidential nominee Barry Goldwater famously proclaimed, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

The Democrats put the exclamation mark on that infamous statement with a highly controversial TV ad in which a little girl pulled petals off a daisy, a nuclear bomb goes off and the insinuation that Goldwater would propel us into World War III is planted.

To this day, I remember watching it with my father.

It only ran once, but it made an impression.

On a lighter note, reporters were targets of all kinds of derision at that convention.

Former President Eisenhower had called them “sensation-seeking columnists and commentators.” Surely he didn’t mean NBC’s John Chancellor, who was a floor reporter at the GOP bash.

Chancellor, who had staked out his position on the crowded floor, refused to give it up to the so-called “Goldwater Girls.”

As the security guards retaliated by dragging him away in front of the national viewing audience, Chancellor said, “I’ve been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”

After Chancellor signed off, the director ordered a return to a two-shot in the booth high above the hall, where anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were chuckling.

Walter Cronkite was not chuckling at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where the violence outside the hall made more news than the speeches inside the hall.

Mayor Richard Daley (the elder), who had refused to let protesters have permits to demonstrate legally, used the police and the National Guard as his personal stormtroopers.   

Like millions of others, I was watching CBS when floor reporter Dan Rather was assaulted.

Rather was trying to interview a Georgia delegate to find out why he was being escorted from the hall.

The guards responded to this horrendous exercise of journalistic freedom by grabbing Rather. “Take your hands off me unless you plan to arrest me,” he yelled into his headset microphone.

One of the guards slugged Rather in the stomach and he fell to the floor.

After he got up and explained to the viewing audience what had happened, the normally avuncular Uncle Walter said, “I think we’ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.”

Nothing quite that intimidating happened at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, which I covered in person.

Some protesters from the group Act Up demonstrated for AIDS awareness, and a seemingly sweet old lady tried to make a buck by selling buttons that read “Die Yuppie Scum.” But there certainly was nothing with the theatricality of Clint Eastwood’s empty chair monologue at the 2012 GOP event.

We choose our No. 1 leader at festivals of foolishness. This is why Will Rogers said, “Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.”
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DNC, Elections, History, Journalism, Politics, RNC
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