Let The (Election) Games Begin

August 30, 2008 | Insights

By Nancy Hamilton

The Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing are behind us; we are now headed for our own uniquely American extravaganzas—no, not the World Series—but the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and the Presidential election. I, for one, believe that politics is the Great American pastime. China may have pulled off the largest fireworks and Closing Ceremonies display ever in an effort to illustrate its place on the world stage, but it will pale in comparison. Indeed, the podium in Denver truly was a rock star’s dream. As one DNC convention producer put it before the convention, “you’ve seen how good the Super Bowl looks, you’ll see something just as special.” It is expected that approximately 5,000 delegates and over 15,000 members of the media will attend each of the conventions—not to mention the local media attention and the bloggers—many of whom are now “credentialed” by the respective parties.

On a more serious note, however, both parties have literally bragged that the conventions will be on schedule, on message, and an orchestrated pageant of unity. The speakers’ speeches are not only scripted, but scrutinized and sanitized and there is the proverbial trap door under the speaker’s feet that will be triggered by any departure from the party lines. At least one report stated that Senator Clinton has teams of “Whips” lined up to keep her supporters in line. Thus, the only true debates are likely to come from the various media pundits, clearly not from the floors or the platforms of the conventions. Perhaps we have achieved the equivalent of the definition of “politic,” that is, “having a practical wisdom, prudent; shrewd; diplomatic; crafty; unscrupulous; artfully contrived; expedient, as a plan, action, remark, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language—Second Edition.)

I have to think that, in large part, this is due to the painful and dreadful memory of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago where chaos and mayhem erupted both on the convention floor and out in the streets. According to the Chicago Historical Society website, “as the riots escalated, Mayor Richard J. Daley called in the troops…At the end of the convention week, police announced that 589 persons had been arrested and more than 119 police and demonstrators injured…Inside the [convention hall]…antiwar delegates supporting Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern opposed the controlling Humphrey faction, not just over the nomination, but in virtually every aspect of the convention…Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff, in a speech nomination of George McGovern, stated that ‘with George McGovern as president…we wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.'” No doubt, that was a shameful time. In an effort to avoid a repeat fracas, however, I think both parties have made a serious over correction.

I, for one, believe that politics is the Great American pastime.

There is no harm in political discord or argument. In her book Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin quoted President Lincoln, who, in recounting how the Republican Party came together with the common goal of preventing the spread of slavery commented, “Of strangediscordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through.” But, today there is a whole generation of American voters (perhaps two) who have grown up since the ’60s and they have no idea of the truth and promise of Lincoln’s words. Nor do they understand what robust freewheeling thought provoking debate is all about.

Instead, the Democratic and Republican National Committees promote, and in fact insist on a lock step mentality, and emphasize appearances as reality rather than substantive exchange of ideas. The danger is there is a growing intolerance in America of free speech, controversial ideas, and the right to protest in favor of political correctness. This intolerance is being fed by the national committees. The candidates, for their part, snipe and swipe at each other with negative ads about how many houses the opponent owns or some other gaff, but there is precious little intelligent discussion let alone debate on substantive issues. As a result, I fear we are sacrificing what makes America truly unique and a world away from China.

— Nancy Hamilton is a partner at Jackson Walker. She can be reached at nhamilton@jw.com.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.