Fun and flavor of political conventions fade amid pandemic

Sneed’s decades-long convention coverage, which started during the upheaval in the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, has given her a wealth of fond memories and traditions.

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A Chicago police officer sprays mace into a crowd during demonstrations surrounding the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

AP file photo

It’s no longer a circus.

The big top is different, not gone. But the traditional political grub fests once held outside our national political conventions have disappeared, jettisoned by a pandemic.

What fun they were ... if the pickings were good.

Outside the political wigwam was the juicy steak of journalism: private venues feeding a press hungry for news not available under the convention tent. Party havens for hustlers, glad handers, gadflies, lugubrious leakers, hustlers and hucksters — they were delicious. 

These coveted private, invitation-only “after-parties,” tossed by celebs, charities, pols, major firms, and media groups, once buzzed with deals and appeals — where drinks flowed and handshakes were under the table or in a quiet corner of the room.

To a journalist, an invite to an after-party was creme; a place where scoops were netted, scores were settled; and new sources formed.

No more. For now. 

This year’s Democratic National Convention was deadly serious: a message of impending doom; a warning of an attack on our Constitution; a plea for nice over vice; an end to structural racism; and a return to a kinder, gentler nation.

Next week’s Republican National Convention is drawing major production whispers of President Donald Trump’s brand of uber “patriotism,” flag waving and Evangelical conservatism.   

So, folks, let’s peek inside Sneed’s grab bag of memorabilia collected covering Democratic and Republican conventions since 1968, when the work was a lot more fun than it seems to be now. 

Here goes. 

Jutting out of my convention keepsakes like an angry tooth waiting to be pulled — is a $14.99 plastic Hillary Clinton doll dubbed the “Boogie Diva” — purchased on sale after she lost her Dem presidential nominee bid to Barack Obama. 

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A Hillary Clinton doll purchased on sale after she lost her Dem presidential nominee bid to Barack Obama.

Provided photo

Under Sneed’s necklace of old security passes is also: 

  • A “Jesse Jackson for President” shoelace from the 1988 Dem convention in Atlanta.
  • A Trump toilet bowl scrubber and bar of Trump hand soap “for dirty politics” purchased after 2016 Dem convention in Philadelphia.
  • A smudged House Speaker Dennis Hastert baseball cap; an opened 2004 George W. Bush deck of cards; and a 1996 GOP convention Bob Dole for President button emblazoned with the candidate decked  as a Mohican Indian. (“The Last of the Republicans!”) Get it? Don’t ask me.
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A Trump toilet bowl scrubber purchased after the 2016 Dem convention in Philadelphia.

Provided photo

Covering the conventions was great fun but heavy lifting; requiring a leg up as well as strong legs; and, decades ago, keeping quarters in our pockets for the obligatory pay phone before the age of cellphones. 

Hailing a cab to “private, invitation-only” after-parties was a nightmare in a traffic-congested convention city.

My baptism covering conventions began in 1968, spending time at police stations bailing out reporters and photographers arrested covering the anti-Vietnam War protests in Grant Park; and in 1972 getting pepper sprayed covering protesters outside the Republican convention center during the Nixon era. 

Sometime in 1980, I began peppering my convention coverage in a column featuring snide Sneed snippets primarily vetted by sources at after-parties. 

“Who would have known plump first daughter Maureen Reagan and her chief of staff tossed dinner plates at each other at the RNC offices at the Hilton Hotel after being caught in a tiff?

“Did Maureen lick the plates clean before she threw them,” I once asked.

So naughty.

Even boxing promoter Don King, whose 2016 Trump endorsement speech was dumped by former RNC Chairman Reince Priebus because he had a criminal history, erupted: “The Republican Party said an ex-convict can’t speak! (They)... didn’t have the decency to tell me to my face, they just sent me a note,” said King, decked out in spangles and stars.

And remember when former White House adviser David Axelrod predicted Donald Trump Jr. may have launched a political career stemming from his boffo convention speech Tuesday night.

“My wife thinks his speech was masterful, and she has a great gauge,” he told Sneed.

Somewhere, in the midst of hard news, came column items garnered from those infamous after-parties, such as: Phyllis “No ERA” Schlafly, whose hair wouldn’t move even if it were plaited with dynamite, fell asleep twice on the GOP convention floor. . . Former Dem presidential contender Hillary Clinton got lost in an elevator en route to her party’s convention. ...Moral Majority maven Jerry Falwell, who sued Hustler magazine over a prurient cartoon, was spotted passing out comic books portraying Dem presidential contender Mike Dukakis in a dress.”

Sneed snippets aside, our country now needs to move forward, not backward.

Not Trump twice, please.

Sneedlings . . . 

Saturday’s birthdays: Dua Lipa, 25; James Corden, 42; and Randall Cobb, 30. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Seth Curry, 30; Rick Springfield, 71; and Jeremy Lin, 32.

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