Actually, up until 1932 it wasn’t accepted practice for a nominee to even appear at a convention to accept in person. Instead, after the votes were counted, a delegation would travel to the candidate’s hometown to notify him. This, for example, was the case with Republican Warren Harding, who accepted the nod in 1920 on his front porch.
Franklin D. Roosevelt changed all that. He broke with tradition and flew from New York to Chicago in 1932. The next time he was nominated (1936), he told that audience about America’s “rendezvous with destiny.” But that was only after some high drama. As he approached the podium that night, one of his leg braces broke and the polio-stricken president fell to the floor as thousands watched in horrified silence. But not a single flashbulb burst – nor did the radio audience hear about it. It was a different world, one without cellphone cameras, bloggers, YouTube or TMZ.
John F. Kennedy accepted the 1960 Democratic nomination speaking at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. What is seldom noted these days, however, is that the speech didn’t play well on television. JFK would make up for that with a better tube moment a few months later.
Very few remember what Lyndon Johnson had to say in Atlantic City as he accepted his party’s nomination in 1964. But Robert Kennedy’s moment, complete with a twenty-two minute ovation, has not been forgotten. And RFK’s contempt for his brother’s successor could not be completely disguised, in spite of the surface appearance of party unity. He shared a quote from Romeo and Juliet that referenced the “garish sun.” Some, including LBJ, saw this as a thinly veiled reference to the president.
Though he won re-nomination in 1980, Jimmy Carter came in second to Ted Kennedy on the rhetoric meter at that year’s Democratic convention. Not only did the seriously flawed heir of all things Camelot outshine Carter on the platform, he wouldn’t do that thing all good losers are supposed to do—he almost comically avoided joining hands with the President and raising arms in victory. As Jimmy chased the senator all around the stage, Teddy did the old stay-away-from-Jimmy shuffle.