Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 8/25/2008 [Archive]

Rally 'Round

Rally 'Round

By Martha Randolph Carr

This week the 2008 U.S. presidential race moves into a higher gear with the kick-off of the Democratic National Convention in Colorado and the official anointing of the Obama and Biden ticket. The Republican Convention will follow in September in Minneapolis. Plenty of people will be glued to their TV sets this week to see if there are any protests from the Hillary fan club and to get a look at the delegates in their full regalia.

The Democratic convention tends to have more costumes and light-heartedness and fewer general protests, with the glaring exception of Chicago and 1968. That summer, what many had thought would be a love-fest turned into a melee as the Chicago police ran rough-shod over protesters, breaking heads and making mass arrests. Herbert Humphrey, the nominee for the Democratic ticket in 1968, called for calmer heads but to no avail.

At the 1980 Democratic convention, Jimmy Carter had to put up with Ted Kennedy stealing his thunder and saw that as a factor in why he was so soundly defeated in the general election. Many others saw the reason as Ronald Reagan.

Ted Kennedy, older and wiser and recovering from cancer, is thought to be returning to the dais this week this time as the unifier of the party.

All of the rich history is why we'll be watching regardless of party affiliation.

We've learned that no matter how well-organized either convention is there is a certain amount of unexpected mayhem and foolishness that springs up and is caught by cameras or journalists before being whisked away.

One year, the Republicans tried a new idea and banned any kind of signs or placards, no matter how small in an effort to stop anyone from ruining the mood with an anti-anything slogan, at least inside the convention.

However, protesters had gotten wise and carried in printed handkerchiefs tucked neatly away in their pockets. At the right moment, they were whipped out and held up for the cameras. The absence of any other signage just made them stand out that much more.

At the last Republican convention, which was held in New York City in 2004 the New York City police rounded up protesters in large groups in an ironic attempt to quell demonstrations of any kind. Tourists and even actors on sets with permits were swept up in the police nets and the city was later sued for violating people's right to congregate.

But, perhaps even more unexpectedly sometimes at the conventions an occasional figure rises to the occasion and inspires all of us for just a moment. In recent memory there was John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s address to the delegates at the 1988 Democratic Convention that left many wondering if he ought to contemplate politics as a career after all.

This week viewers are waiting to see if Obama can pull off another moment like he did last March when he delivered the powerful message, A More Perfect Union.

And, we want to get a good look at Biden now that he's the pick for vice-president. A lot will be made of his roots in Scranton, a town in the hollows of Pennsylvania and also of his less-affluent bank account. Biden is more like the average voter in that he could survive maybe a year without a job, while McCain could quit right now and still be able to keep all seven of his houses out of foreclosure.

But what most of us who are watching will really want to hear is how Obama and Biden can steer us through the end of a war, a warming climate and a failing economy. All of those are housewarming presents from the last president.

This is the moment when all the platitudes need to end and the framework of what the next four years can look like can come together. That's when I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, a memoir about the reemergence of U.S. orphanages is available wherever books are sold. If you'd like Martha to come and speak to your group visit: Author's email: or visit

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