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We owe Clint Eastwood a big thank-you.

His speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention was strange, rambling, often incoherent and completely lacking in the cleverness that he seemed to think it contained, but at least he came off as a raw, real person.

Everything else at the convention was scripted, vetted, blanched and rehearsed until all the life was wrung from it.

Not that I expect anything different from the Democrats. Their convention probably will be even worse, since the same crew has been through the same drill before. There won’t even be any of the tiny bit of anticipation one might have felt about being “introduced” to Paul Ryan, or seeing Mitt Romney finally accept his party’s nomination after a long and bruising fight.

I think the two parties and the networks owe us more real entertainment.

Isn’t it enough that the networks and cable stations make hundreds of millions of dollars serving as the conduit for a stream of lies and manipulation every political season?

Pointless proceedings

Do they need to give free time to the parties so that they can confirm results that were decided months ago?

Thanks to Eastwood’s weird performance, you could begin to make an argument for continuing to waste television air time on these denatured spectacles. What these events need is more drama, more edginess, more Eastwood.

Imagine if there had been cameras at the Republican convention of 1860. That barn-burner of a convention, which catapulted Abraham Lincoln onto the national stage after three tense rounds of balloting, had more drama than an entire election year these days.

A century ago, in 1912, Republicans held their first primaries, and former President Theodore Roosevelt won the delegates in nine of the 12 states that had primaries.

That left 36 states that didn’t, meaning they were still under the sway of political bosses. William Howard Taft, though he failed to impress many primary voters, played the convention game well and overwhelmingly wrested the nomination from Roosevelt.

And who, having lived through the 1960s, could ever forget the Democratic convention of 1968? It featured rioting cops, naked hippies, tear gas, immense protests and the presiding evil genius of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Better yet, it was all being filmed. That was some reality television. Modern conventions are like terrible sit-coms that are rerun by mistake.

One for the ages

One of the best conventions ever had to be the Democratic gathering in 1920, held in San Francisco.

Prohibition had begun five months earlier and everyone was expecting a gloomy convention, but the mayor of San Francisco, James Rolph Jr., was kind enough to supply convention-goers with a seemingly unlimited supply of very good bourbon.

It was doled out in quart bottles at no charge, with the compliments of the mayor. The journalist and critic H.L. Mencken wrote in his memoirs that the convention sessions were free “of the usual quarreling and caterwauling” and went on “like a conference of ambassadors.”

The conventioneers, in fact, enjoyed themselves so much that instead of winding up on a Saturday as planned, the delegates voted Saturday morning to adjourn for the rest of the weekend.

After the vote, delegates scooped up as much bourbon as they could carry and drove off looking for adventure. Many of them had to be dragged back to the convention by the police. One delegate made it as far as Carson City, Nev., in a cab.

“Whenever I meet an old-timer who took part in it,” Mencken wrote, “we fall into maudlin reminiscences of it, and tears drop off the ends of our noses.”

I’d love to reminisce like that someday about contemporary conventions.

How about it, Democrats? Why not turn loose, say, Robert Downey Jr. and allow him to deliver an impromptu speech at your convention?

Instead of the empty chair that Eastwood used to represent President Obama, Downey could drag out an empty station wagon, or a small yacht, the better to grill an absent Mitt Romney.

Better yet, allow Downey to fortify himself with bourbon beforehand. Ratings would go through the roof.



I cover the city of Billings.