Political Conventions Then and Now

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The purpose of a political convention, traditionally, is to select a party’s candidates.  This year that’s all been done, due to a long process and lots of media attention.  Instead of a meeting to make a decision, the conventions are carefully scripted presentations, meant to persuade those outside the hall, who, thanks to the television coverage, can usually see what’s happening on the stage more clearly than those inside.

Things were different in 1876, when Robert Ingersoll gave his famous speech nominating James G. Blaine for the Republican candidate for the presidency.  In those days the people outside the hall had to wait to read the speeches in the newspaper.  Ingersoll’s rhetoric was for the attendees alone.

In matters other than technology, however, there were similarities between 1876 and our present state of affairs.  The national debt was worrying everyone.  It had quadrupled during the Civil War; it stood at $2.18 billion and was showing no signs of dropping.  In addition, a panic in 1873, propelled in large part by shady dealings among Wall Street financiers, had induced a recession that was far from over.  Wars, deficit and recession: things we are familiar with today. Ingersoll’s speech suggests a different approach to these issues from that which current leaders offer.  What the Republicans want, he argues, is this:

They demand a man who will sacredly preserve the financial honor of the United States; one who knows enough to know that the national debt must be paid through the prosperity of this people; one who knows enough to know that all the financial theories in the world cannot redeem a single dollar; one who knows enough to know that all the money must be made, not by law, but by labor; one who knows enough to know that the people of the United States have the industry to make the money, and the honor to pay it over just as fast as they make it.

Later on he adds:

This money has to be dug out of the earth. You cannot make it by passing resolutions in a political convention.

The idea that money could be created without gold and silver to back it up was unthinkable in 1876.  Wealth, whether of the country or the individual, could only come through work.  Ingersoll becomes quite poetic as he expand on this.  His balanced phrases can be set into lines like a poem:

The Republicans of the United States demand a man
who knows that prosperity and resumption,
when they come, must come together;
that when they come,
they will come hand in hand
through the golden harvest fields;
hand in hand by the whirling spindles
and the turning wheels;
hand in hand past the open furnace doors;
hand in hand by the flaming forges;
hand in hand by the chimneys filled with eager fire,
greeted and grasped by the countless sons of toil.

Such fine language, though highly praised and long remembered, did not win Blaine the nomination, which went to Rutherford B. Hayes.  Hayes then won the election through promises to the South to remove from southern soil the Federal troops that were attempting to enforce northern standards, an issue Ingersoll had not addressed.   Government requires more than rhetoric.


Poet and Place: Fiesta Season in Las Cruces


When people from elsewhere think of New Mexico they usually think of Albuquerque,  Santa Fe or Taos, the northern part of the state.  Las Cruces is different.  It is in the desert in the southern part of the state and on the border.  You can’t take a main road from Las Cruces to the rest of the country without passing through a Border Patrol check point.  It’s quite clear that this area used to be part of Mexico.

My poem, “At the Edge,” about walking in the desert, has appeared this week on 200 New Mexico Poems, a site to celebrate New Mexico’s centennial of statehood.  You can find the site by clicking on the name in the blogroll to the right.  You’ll find poems about all parts of the state and many of its cultures: Native American, Hispanic, etc.

In my writing, the desert enters often.  As you can tell from my previous post, I pay attention to native plants and places to hike and they show up in my writing.  In Pennsylvania, there was a red-leaf maple outside my window which made frequent appearances in my writing.  Now the view out the window near which I write includes tall grass plants, an apache plume and a mesquite tree, which has grown from a small bush in half a dozen years.  I have thought of gathering these poems into a collection called “From Maple to Mesquite.”

Culture is a more complicated matter; one should tread lightly in referring to aspects of culture that really “belong” to others.  But it’s fiesta season in Las Cruces, and it suddenly seems as if everyone has a share in all the cultures we have here.  It began last weekend with a Salsafest downtown.  My family skipped that because the Greek Orthodox church in El Paso was having its Festival at the same time.  We came home with Greek food to keep us happy for a week.

On this three day weekend, there are enough events to do something every day.  You can go north to Hatch for the Chile Festival, west to the Fairgrounds for the Wine Harvest Festival or south to Holy Cross Retreat Center for the Franciscan Arts Festival.  First priority for me is the Franciscan Festival, where my favorite local musician, Randy Granger, will play his flute.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll get to the others.  I do need a little “down” time on the weekend.

The party continues all fall.  On September 15 and 16, hot air balloons and the Diez y seis de Septiembre festival (Mexican Independence Day) in Mesilla will be in competition.  Soon after that comes the Whole Enchilada Festival, then the next weekend the Southern New Mexico State Fair.  (It takes several of New Mexico’s sparsely populated southern counties to put together the equivalent of a County Fair in other parts of the country.)  Pagan Pride day arrives in mid-October, when some of my friends who belly dance will be performing.  November 3 and 4 there’ll be competition again, between the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mesilla and the Renaissance Arts Faire just across town.

After that I hope to get a little break before the holiday bazaars, tree lightings and luminarias of December.  November is time to be outdoors here, to visit White Sands National Monument and the petroglyph sites and hike up into canyons.  Landscape and culture: so much to keep us busy.

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