The Roll Call of the States is my favorite part of our political conventions. It is a national stage. One by one each state is called and someone, often someone who has not spent a lot of time in front of a TV camera, surrounded by a cheering delegation, puffs out his/her chest and announces, “My state, G-d’s gift to mankind, proudly casts its 75 votes for the next president of the United States, _______.” It’s fun. It is just good TV.
Tuesday night could have been a disappointment. No huge crowd. No sweaty delegates in gaudy hats and five campaign buttons too many. As I waited for it to begin I thought of the 1992 Democratic Convention. I was on a honeymoon. We were staying in a lovely lakeside resort in the middle of New Hampshire. And yes, I was sitting on the edge of the bed tabulating the votes on my legal pad. It was exciting watching Bill Clinton win.
The states are called in alphabetical order. Alabama is always first. The home state of the nominee passes so that it can cast the final or decisive votes. Alabama was called and we were suddenly transported to the Edmund Pettus Bridge! Representative Terri Sewell (D-Al) gave her state’s eight votes for Bernie Sanders and 52 votes for Joe Biden. She also said:
“John Lewis marched across this bridge in 1965 to demand the right to vote. A lifetime later, civil rights and voting rights remain America’s great unfinished business. But those who walked this path before us showed us the way forward. If we want to honor John Lewis’s incredible life, let’s restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure our democracy belongs to all Americans.”
I turned to Sally and I said, “We are going to be OK.” The states and territories were called. We saw beautiful vistas, turquoise, and flowered shirts. And even people who don’t like seafood were tempted by Rhode Island’s calamari. This was the best roll call, ever. Even if we are allowed to return to on-site conventions, the virtual roll calls must become a permanent fixture of the nominating process.
Some of my readers might think that this is a Democratic thing. It is not. The 1992 Republican Convention, which featured a sitting president fending off a challenge from his right flank, had lots of drama. Conventions tell us what the candidates and the party think is important and how they view the country. It is also a chance to see the rising stars.
The 1988 Democratic Convention featured an overly long, self-indulgent speech from a governor of a small state. The people in the hall couldn’t wait for him to finish. Many of us at home knew that we were meeting the next star of the party, a guy named Bill Clinton. And that State Senator from Illinois who spoke at the 2004 Democratic Convention seemed to have succeeded pretty well. Keep your eyes open. We may see a future president this week or next.
This is not a zero sum game. You can enjoy this week’s Democratic Party Convention and next week’s Republican Party Convention. Our conventions are a part of our process, the way a free people nominate and elect our leadership. Celebrate our process, all of our process. Don’t shortcut. Don’t skip any part of it. It is all important. It is our obligation to participate in every step. Vote. Vote like our country depends on it. Vote because it is the most important way to maintain our way of life.
And save me some of that calamari.
Picture – Old School – David L Cunix