WASHINGTON - Some doddering print and TV pundits think covering the two presidential nominating conventions is a waste of time. Still, there are other folks who are deeply and sincerely interested in the sessions.
For example, there are United Airlines, US Airways, Microsoft and American Water Works Co.
Microsoft is donating $1 million each to the Republican Convention in Philadelphia (July 31) and the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles (Aug. 14).
Microsoft wants the government's antitrust case to go away before the company is cleft in twain.
United Airlines is giving $500,000 to the Democratic meeting. US Airways has donated $500,000 to the Republican convention.
These two monsters want to merge. They want to create a dominant regional subsidiary, DC Air, that will keep all of upstate New York's air travelers paying through the nose, and putting up with impromptu flight cancellations.
Remember these two huge, well-targeted gifts when you hear your congressmen making grand speeches against the airline merger.
American Water Works is donating $100,000 to each conclave. The company now runs Buffalo's municipal water works, and may also have a stake in one or two suburban Erie County systems.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the private water works company wants to delay or kill proposed federal rules that would make drinking water safer.
Back in 1913, you couldn't make drinking water too clean. That was when the people of Buffalo proudly opened their Ward Pumping Station in the wake of a murderous typhoid fever epidemic.
That idealistic notion is about to be put to the test in the social rooms of the two conventions, abetted by a six-figure payoff to each party.
In all, corporate America is ginning up nearly $42 million to help the two political parties pay for their conventions and purchase influence, no matter who wins.
The corporations can't be too careful. They don't want all their work buying up the Congress wrecked at something like a convention.
The complaint from columnists and from network talking heads - too often reflected by their brass back home - is that there are no longer any surprises at the conventions. In a fit of self-loathing, ABC's Ted Koppel grandly walked out on the conventions four years ago.
All are signals from these pale riders that they have been too long in the saddle, that they have become unused to hard work and that they ought to trot off into the sunset.
The intensity they crave - suspense over the name of the presidential nominee - offers an easy story, but a story missing from the national conventions for 40 years. The last GOP convention where there was any real indecision about the nominee was in 1952. The last Democratic convention of the type was in 1960.
The greatest of all sports columnists, Red Smith, once wrote that the heart of baseball is "caring." Without caring, baseball becomes a slow, repetitive exercise. So it is with political conventions. So it is watching Shakespeare, or listening to Bach's partitas for solo violin.
The heart of our democracy is "caring" enough to want a good, long, hard look at our candidates, their families, their spoken ideals, their supporters and their enemies. Reporters and citizens who care about our national aspirations and believe in the Constitution can't get enough of conventions.
People who care will be watching on CNN and C-SPAN to gauge for themselves how the candidates and the candidates' statements hold up under the pressure of sustained exposure.
In a way, the millions donated by corporations are a kind of expression of caring. But this year, there will be even more dramatic expressions of interest - genteel and not so couth.
A coalition of reformers are holding "Shadow Conventions" in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. These will deal with such issues as universal health care, reshaping the war on drugs and campaign finance reform.
The sessions will be sedate compared to what is planned for the streets by the folks who brought the World Trade Organization meeting to a standstill in Seattle and tried to disrupt international finance meetings here a few months ago.
Demonstrations involving between 30,000 and 50,000 dissidents have been planned for July 29 and 30 in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Direct Action Group's Web site invites viewers to come and "disrupt the Republican National Convention."
An allied group, calling itself "D2KLA" is planning an equally large "Festival of Resistance" in Los Angeles. Among the events listed on the calendar are a number of marches and workshops, including one by the North American Anarchist Conference.
All their slingers foreswear violence, destruction of property and the use of drugs and alcohol.
So there will be plenty to watch and ponder during the only two national political town meetings we are ever going to get - at least for the next four years..
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