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Memorable Moments From Political Conventions Past


Despite some interference as what is now Hurricane Isaac brush past, Republicans meet this week in Tampa for their national convention, Democrats will follow next week in Charlotte. Some advice to expect little more than carefully scripted political ads. But Political Junkie Ken Rudin argues the conventions have provided some of the great moments of American political history in the past and hopes to see a little bit more over the next couple of weeks.

What's your favorite moment from a political convention? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Political Junkie Ken Rudin has been to 12 conventions, six of each, going back to 1980. And he joins us here in Studio 3A. Ken, why aren't you in Tampa? You miss it?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Well, I'm watching on TV, and of course, I'll be listening tonight on NPR. But I'm really here today, Neal, to give you conventional wisdom and thinking.

CONAN: Go. Thank you very much for that. The conventions, of course, used to actually decide who the presidential candidate and vice president would be.

RUDIN: And not only - well, first of all, in the old days, there were very few primaries, and the primaries had very little to do deciding who the nominees were. And the famous story, of course, is 1952 in Chicago when Adlai Stevenson walks into the convention in Chicago as a noncandidate and walks out as the nominee.

CONAN: So this could happen within living memory.


RUDIN: Well, if you call this living, yes, of course. But since 1972, the primaries and caucuses have taken over, and lately in the most recent political cycles, we know the nominees well in advance of the conventions. And in the old days, actually, we used to pick the vice presidents at the conventions, and that too has been changed in recent decades.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Mark Hagen(ph) in Oregon, Wisconsin. He remembers Mario Cuomo's speech in 1984


CONAN: I'm glad we're not arguing about social Darwinism anymore.

RUDIN: Well, you know, that was a very dramatic moment, and it was an amazing convention in 1984 in San Francisco. For many speeches, of course, Mario Cuomo gave that great keynote speech. Jesse Jackson gave an amazing speech as well, the runner up to Walter Mondale. And of course, Geraldine Ferraro stood up there and introduced herself as, hi, my name is Geraldine Ferraro, and the place went wild. It was the first Democratic convention I had been to. It was pretty exciting. And except - you know, you took about what great things come out of conventions, Geraldine Ferraro with that great speech and everything. And Mondale-Ferraro lost 49 out of 50 states that year. So what happens in the convention doesn't always translate to November.

CONAN: Well, speaking of spectacular losers, let's go to the Cow Palace in San Francisco and the 1960 Republican...

RUDIN: '64.

CONAN: ...1964 Republican nominee, and that is, of course, the senator from the great state of Arizona. It is Barry Goldwater. And Barry Goldwater, of course, well, is - well, this is one of the defining moments in American political history.


CONAN: That second part often left off.

RUDIN: Well, both of them are pretty dramatic and, you know, we always talk about Mitt Romney and how he flipped-flopped and he's not a true conservative. He's not a true moderate. He's not a true anything. But Barry Gold(ph) was not fooling around in 1964. He was a true conservative, and the conservatives were very restless in 1964. They had sat through the Eisenhower years, pretty much ignored by moderate, you know, Eastern establishment Republicans. They took over the party in '64 at the Cow Palace.

CONAN: And in a sense, created the Republican Party we see today. It's a residue of that experience.

RUDIN: Exactly. Goldwater only won six states in November, but Richard Nixon was elected in '68, more importantly, Ronald Reagan in 1980. And that was the beginning of the conservative control of the Republican Party.

CONAN: Let's go next to Yolanda. Yolanda with us from Durham, in North Carolina.

YOLANDA: Yes. I just love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

YOLANDA: The most significant convention speech I remember is the one from Barbara Jordan in 1976 when she was the keynote speaker. That was the first year that I could vote in a presidential election. And I refer to it to my children all the time. They are now 18, which my son will be voting this fall, and I have a daughter that's 14, as well as a 13-year-old. But I bet the one I always go back to and talk about how significant I thought that one was. I listen to everything else off air. Thank you.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for the call. It's interesting, we were going back and listening to that speech earlier today to pick a clip and, boy, you could listen to it all day long. But we did find one clip.


CONAN: I still get chills listening to that.

RUDIN: You know, I mean, first of all, there were not many black African-American women who spoke before a convention before Barbara Jordan. But it was just more than her race and more than her color. Barbara Jordan was a commanding presence. The American people found out who she was during the Watergate hearings. She was on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of Richard Nixon. And she just had a way of speaking that just keep you just glued to the radio or the television.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Kate. And Kate is with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

KATE: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Kate.

KATE: I remember - this is probably not as politically significant maybe. I remember being a little kid, and since it was summer, I was allowed to stay up late, and it was in the wee hours of the night. I was the only watching the television. And I think it must have been 1960, John Chancellor was being escorted out of the convention.

CONAN: John Chancellor, reporting from somewhere in a custody.

KATE: Well, no. He was being escorted and they were filming it. You could see it on television. They were covering it. And his bags are being carried off the set there.

CONAN: The rather - well, raucous, I think, is a fair word to use, say, for 1968, Ken?

RUDIN: Well...

KATE: Yeah. I don't - I mean, I was too young to even know its significance. I was just giddy with delight to be watching it all night, pretty much. And there he was being escorted off. And I'd never seen a reporter - they were very dignified, even in those days - being carried, physically removed from a place. It was the beginning of all that, I suppose.


RUDIN: For some reason, I can't remember Chancellor with '64 or '68. Both conventions were tumultuous. In '68, of course, was the horror going in the streets in Chicago and then violence seeped into the convention controlled by Mayor Daley. There was this amazing speech - an amazing speech where Abe Ribicoff - remember Bobby Kennedy had been shot two months before. Abe Ribicoff, a senator from Connecticut, was up there lecturing Mayor Daley from the podium.


CONAN: Mayor Daley was seen - those who could read lips.

RUDIN: We don't say that on the air here at NPR. But I'm not sure if Chancellor was '64 or '68. But both of them, the news media were handled pretty - not so delicately by the armed guards at the convention.

CONAN: Here's - following up on that, Jacob in Ann Harbor writes: You ask what my favorite convention moment was, mine would have to be when Dan Rather got stomach punched on the air while at the Democratic National Convention floor in 1968. So we won't talk about how many other people would like to have done that to Dan Rather. But anyway, thanks very much for the call.

RUDIN: And, you know, what's fascinating about 1968, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination that year, the Democratic nomination. Did not enter, let alone win a single primary, and that shows how much the system has changed, you know, evolved since 1968.

CONAN: And Annie joins us now on the line. And Annie is with us from Nashville.

ANNIE: Yes. My most memorable convention speech is the first one I remember, and that's was Ann Richards giving the where-was-Bush speech.

CONAN: This is Ann Richards, the governor of...

RUDIN: Not yet. Almost - state treasurer, right?

CONAN: State treasurer of Texas. Stood up and gave just - again, you listen to the speech and it's great stuff. This is a keynote address from the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta.


CONAN: Just one of the many zingers she got off.

RUDIN: She was just known for zingers and, of course, two years later, she was elected governor of Texas. But it was funny that this is the Michael Dukakis convention. Right after Atlanta, Dukakis-Bentsen ticket left Atlanta with a 17-point lead, and everybody thought that the ticket of Bush and ultimately Dan Quayle was gonna get defeated, but they came back. So, so much momentum coming out of the convention.

CONAN: And it's interesting. You think of some of the great bomb throwers and the great lines. Ann Richards there at the Democratic Convention. Here in 1992 at the Republican convention in Houston, Pat Buchanan gave what came to be know as the culture war speech.



RUDIN: He did not pull punches. Of course, Pat Buchanan challenged President Bush for re-nomination. Didn't succeed. They gave Buchanan a very headline time to give that speech. I think a lot of the Bush people felt that that was a mistake because Pat Buchanan, as much as he excited the crowd in New Orleans - I mean, in Houston, and he did excite the crowd, it turned off many moderate and centrist voters.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, foreshadowing tomorrow's edition of the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we go to Eric. Eric with us from St. Louis.

ERIC: Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

ERIC: I was in Madison Square Garden for the Democratic convention in 1980. And the thing that struck me more than anything was the speech that Ted Kennedy gave as the losing speaker of the nomination. And what struck me was, here was a guy that had not been impressive, who couldn't really articulate during the campaign why he wanted to be president. And he gave a speech that was so inspiring and so moving that I think the hall may have had some second thoughts about that - nominating Jimmy Carter that year.

CONAN: I covered that Kennedy campaign for NPR, and I was also in the hall for that speech and was reading it, trying to pull cuts for my piece that night on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And it was a tremendous, interesting moment. Ted Kennedy, at the end, recalls Tennyson's famous lines in his concession speech.


RUDIN: Wow. Well, you know, something, I mean, that was one of the most amazing speeches. And as you point out, this was a losing speech. And, you know, the reason Ted Kennedy fought on this long is because he thought he could change the rules and have the delegates vote their conscience and not who they supported because of the primaries and caucuses. He failed. But had they got rid of that, it's very possible that Ted Kennedy could have gotten the nomination.

CONAN: Eric, thanks very much for the call.

ERIC: You're very welcome.

CONAN: Let's see if we go next to - this is Clytie(ph), is that right, in Salt Lake City?

CLYTIE: Oh, yeah. And now, I'm starting to question my memory. But wasn't there a Democratic convention between '80 and '85 where they introduced Hubert Humphrey as Hubert Horatio Hornblower Humphrey?


RUDIN: Actually - that was actually in 1968, one of the nominating speeches to Hubert Humphrey. Again, you probably don't remember because all the anger and the violence that was going on. But, yes, they called him Hubert Horatio Hornblower.

CONAN: And...

CLYTIE: Thank you.

CONAN: ...it's interesting. Thanks very much for the call. But Hubert Humphrey, not just when he was nominated for president and previously when he was nominated for vice president, but in 1948, at the Democratic convention, Hubert Humphrey had a dramatic moment at a political convention when he called for a civil rights platform.


CONAN: Foreshadowing so many party fights over the next decade.

RUDIN: And you didn't even have to wait that long because shortly after Humphrey's speech - now, Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis at that time, running for the Senate for Minnesota for the first time. Shortly after Humphrey's speech, Southern delegates walked out of the convention. As a matter of fact, shortly later - shortly after, formed their own convention, the States' Right convention, where they nominated the Democratic governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond, for president. But it was a very, very dramatic moment.

CONAN: And then there's the aspect of turncoats. In 2008, the former vice presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, Senator Joe Lieberman, appeared at the Republican convention in St. Paul to support John McCain.


CONAN: And, of course, we'll be looking forward to Artur Davis and Charlie Crist...

RUDIN: Charlie Crist, right.

CONAN: ...at the conventions this year.

RUDIN: Right. It's happened before. Zell Miller, who, I think, may have been one of the nominees to Bill Clinton in 1992, turned up at the 2004 convention. I think he was the keynote speaker at 2004. There have been people who have switched parties, but nobody went from a nominee for vice president, like Joe Lieberman, to be endorsing the Republican ticket not long later.

CONAN: We'll look forward to whether moments from this year's conventions. And Political Junkie Ken Rudin will join us as he always does on Wednesday. That's tomorrow. Ken, thanks very much for being here.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Tomorrow, in this hour, we'll talk about new efforts to protect police informants. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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