Convention Season and Memory Lane

The US party conventions kick off next week with the Democratic Party convention in Denver. The news that Democratic Party candidate, Barack Obama, has chosen Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate is not a big surprise and is a clear effort by the Presidential hopeful to limit the impact of the charge by McCain supporters that Obama is weak and inexperienced on foreign policy. Democrats will hope that Biden, in his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, will provide Obama with sufficient political cover to neuter what has proved an effective political line of attack for Republicans. Biden will be remembered by political anoraks on this side of the Atlantic for the controversy sparked during his bid for the party’s candidacy in the 1988 Presidential campaign when it was discovered he had plagiarised a speech by the then British Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock.
I will declare my hand: I’ll be rooting for Obama in this election (like I have for Democrats in every such election in the States), though with the sobering reservation that I’m not sure what difference he’ll make in the disastrous field that is US foreign policy. But I live in hope.
The 1984 Democratic Primary campaign was significant in that it was the first time a black American politician mounted a serious challenge for the nomination of either of the two political parties in the US- the politician being Jesse Jackson (he also ran unsuccessfully in 1988.)
I was fortunate enough as a nine year old to attend that Convention in 1984, held in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Anyone who has been will know just why Tony Bennett left his heart there…
My father was a party delegate for the state of Arizona, which at the time meant very little to me, beyond being the reason why my family would all be packed into the station wagon to make the long, hot journey across the Mojave Desert to California.
That holiday has remained etched in my mind in the form of a number of patchy, but glorious reminscinces: the sites of the Bay City remain most vividly in that corner of my mind which has stored the happiest/ photogenic holiday memories: the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Redwood Forest, Lombard Street aka- the ‘crookedest road in the world,’ streetcars, Chinatown, Fishermans Wharf- I can recall them all (and, for someone with an appalling memory, that’s some personal feat!)
I can also remember a Chinese-American shop owner being so impressed that I was an avid 49ers’ fan that he gifted me with a commemorative Super Bowl XVI badge which I still have to this day. Sports fans will know that the former Notre Dame great, Joe Montana, led the 49ers to a famous victory in the January 1982 Super Bowl, at that time the solitary triumph of the then formerly sporting success starved city.
Other than the memories of San Francisco, I can recall watching the culmination of the Olympic Men’s Marathon event from our motel room in San Diego and being delighted that an Irishman had gained a medal (John Treacy’s silver being Ireland’s only medal at the Los Angeles games that year.)
It is therefore ironic that the only memories I retain of the actual Convention are of watching the Jackson ‘rainbow coalition’ speech in our hotel room (somewhat disinterestedly, unlike my mother) and of watching some unknown speaker mid-speech from the floor of the Convention hall, having been brought in during a quieter period to experience the event. US Party Conventions invariably attract protests from many disparate groups. For some reason, I remember catching a glimpse of a protester’s placard which referred to ‘POL POT,’ a picture that not only stayed with me but puzzled me for years to come as, having heard of ‘pot,’ I couldn’t understand who or what Pol was and why he had it….
The 1984 Democratic presidential ticket included another first, with Geraldine Ferraro becoming the first female to run for Vice President. Of course, Democrats will be hoping for a different outcome this time as the 1984 campaign witnessed a comprehensive trouncing of the Walter Mondale- Ferraro ticket by the Ronald Reagan-inspired Republicans.
While it’s sure to be a lot closer, time will tell whether the Democrats can regain the White House this time around.