Thanks to the timing of this year's Olympic games, the Democrats and the Republicans will be holding their presidential nominating conventions back to back. So by the time their staged, silly goings-on are over, the voters will have less than two months to properly vet John McCain and Barack Obama.
There was a time when the political conventions meant something. Few recall that John Kennedy didn't arrive for the 1960 Democratic convention with his nomination locked up. And conventions prior to that were often dogfights. Nominees sometimes weren't determined until many rounds of balloting. Even as late as 1976, Ronald Reagan had a realistic chance of wresting the nomination away from incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford barely won.
With time, the conventions became irrelevant, mostly because the two major parties strove to avoid even the slightest sign of division within their ranks. Consequently, even this year's down-to-the-wire race between Obama and Hillary Clinton was never destined to come down to the convention. Through "enforcement of rules" with Florida's and Michigan's Democratic delegates, and the bullying of the "super delegates," the Democratic National Committee made sure their convention this year will be as boring as always.
So we're going to have gatherings at which the media, political activists, politicians and lobbyists will all gather for a week of eating, drinking and gabbing. Obama undoubtedly will deliver his acceptance speech to a massive outdoor audience, and it will be hailed by media as historically awe-inspiring. McCain will give his own speech in more modest indoor confines, and it will be deemed by the same media as "about as good as we could expect" from a Republican fuddy-duddy.
The only intrigue at the Democratic convention will be whether Bill Clinton, who has been promised a speech, will be able to control himself, or will decide to give comeuppance to everybody that got in Hillary's way this year; to DNC Chair Howard Dean for rigging the nomination process for Obama, and to some in the media -- and certainly the Obama camp -- for attacking Bill when he made comments early in the primary season that got him labeled a racist. (Maybe he'll point out, rightly, that the media that for years labeled him "President Bubba" were just as bigoted as anybody.)
Now if Bill would get up there and set them all straight, I'd be compelled to cover that story. But other than a few oblique comments, even he will behave.
On the Republican side, I guess the most interesting thing will be whether the mini-convention being held by Congressman Ron Paul -- the one that's pre-sold over 8,000 tickets so far -- will have more actual convention participants than the GOP convention, which will be limited to 5,000 delegates and alternates. (There will be nearly 40,000 people all told, but most will just be glorified partisan partiers.)
With Barack Obama losing some steam in national polls, one wonders if his determination to present himself as a rock star in a football stadium when he makes his acceptance speech will help him, or only leave the impression that he is all flash and no grit.
And we can count on the GOP to gives us the same tired proceedings as always. Believe me, I've been behind the scenes at those things. Break through glazed crust and it's the same stale pie.
The big loser will be the American people. They'll hear nothing but canned messages, and will be left with less than two months to scrape off the glitter and grease paint from the candidates and see their true faces.
What we need are more televised debates and forums in which the two candidates -- as opposed to only media questioners -- are allowed to poke and prod each other for weaknesses and concrete policies. To his credit, John McCain asked for just such events. To his credit, Obama realized he could get knocked out of the ring early if he agreed to go toe-to-toe with McCain more than a handful of times.
Regardless, you won't need sleeping pills after the Olympics end. Just turn on the conventions, and you'll be out like a light.