Wick Communications

Political convention theater

In Books on September 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

On Wednesday, a colleague and I were discussing the political conventions and the scripted events they have become. That discussion brought to mind one of my favorite “journalism books” of all time, Norman Mailer’s brilliant “Miami and the Siege of Chicago.”

Well, the book critic of the Los Angeles Times was thinking the very same thing.

The book is a first-person, New Journalism-style peek at the 1968 political conventions. The Republicans took their swing first in Miami and then the Democrats ran amok three weeks later in Chicago.

The book grew out of separate pieces Mailer wrote for Harper’s Magazine. His idea was to get inside the conventions and write about who we were as a nation by gazing at our reflection in the electoral machine. It was a heady time, of course. The Vietnam War was raging. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated. And our politics were anything but made for TV. Real things happened at the conventions. Delegates argued over the party platform. There was literally fighting in the streets.

Here’s what made that book special for me: Mailer didn’t pretend he was a dispassionate observer. He was an everyman standing in for all of us. And he saw our America coming apart at the seams. …

Times critic David Ulin suggests that Mailer was prescient when, for instance, he wrote, “We yet may win, the others are so stupid. But heaven help us when we do.” He noted that the “historical temperature” of our country was on the rise, just as it seems to be now with the Occupy movement and the growing divide between “red and “blue” schools of thought.

A lot has been made of late about the failure of the mainstream media to fact-check candidate statements. There may be some truth to that, but, personally, I miss more the kind of temperature-taking that was done by guys like Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson.

If you are a political junkie, I highly recommend Mailer’s “Miami and the Siege of Chicago.”

Clay

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