Do you remember the good old days when the...


July 14, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR

NEW YORK -- Do you remember the good old days when the delegates to presidential nominating conventions picked the nominee? Instead of like today when the nominee picks the delegates?

If so, then, sister, you're much older than I.

Just kidding.

But seriously, folks, things have changed. Not since 1952 has a national convention of either party gone to a second roll call vote to choose a presidential nominee. That gets settled in the state primaries and caucuses long before the convention delegates gather, and these delegates are candidate selected.

For example, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Baltimore County had to have Bill Clinton's approval to run as one of his delegates in Maryland's primary. She was one of more than enough Marylanders who requested such permission.

Campaign managers chose the names to appear on the ballot with a Clinton designation from a long list of such wanna bes.

Ray Donaldson and his daughter Heather didn't have to compete. They are Tsongas delegates from Howard County. When delegate candidates were sought, Donaldson's old Peace Corps buddy Tsongas was given no chance to do well. Tsongas supporters could barely get enough Marylanders to sign up as delegate candidates. (Tsongas still retained the right to veto delegate candidates who wanted his designation after their names on the ballot.)(Of course.)

Also, of course, Tsongas won the state, and so there are more Donaldsons here, delegates technically chosen by Tsongas -- than Kennedys -- delegates chosen by Clinton.

Also also of course, when the roll is called up tomorrow night about 10 p.m. these Tsongas delegates may well be voting for Clinton. A deal has been made between the two camps. Tsongas gets some of his platform ideas debated by the full convention in return. As of Sunday night, Donaldson for one was not sure he'd go along. "This isn't a coronation."

A lot of delegates look on this convention as exactly that: a coronation. I mean in the sense that a crown is being placed on the head of someone who is not really the best leader available, but on someone who inherited it.

In Britain, you inherit the crown by order of birth. In the eyes of many delegates and party leaders here, Bill Clinton "inherited" the nomination because none of the party's best (presumably) men would run.

What upsets delegates like Donaldson is that in the name of unity, party leaders have decided public deliberation over individuals and ideas must be, in effect, artificial.

But what would you expect of an institution like the national conventions, which have become artificial in essence themselves? No wonder the networks can't find audiences for the conventions.

Maybe the way to regain audiences is start doing it the old fashioned way. Stop having so many primaries. Start brawling prime time live again.


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