Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $10.95
A Democratic convention, as everyone knows, is that occasion on which the nation’s majority party looks deeply into its heart and summons forth a presidential candidate of character, vision, political shrewdness, and a reasonable chance of being elected. A Democratic convention, as Richard Reeves and a squad of collaborators discovered, is also an ideal time to observe adults behaving badly.
The 1976 convention, held in New York’s Madison Square Garden, may have been no more thrilling and no more disillusioning than any other. But Reeves’s report of its less-publicized events will greatly please anyone with a yearning to see big shots get cut down to size.
Power is what we use to get our way; in the language of social scientists, it is “the ability to produce intended effects.” Politicians, from time to Lime, get their way by enforcing the rule of quid pro quo. That is why convention credentials chief Kitty Halpin, fired years earlier by then Senator Fred Harris, replied to her former employer’s request for extra credentials by sending an assistant with this message: “Miss Halpin says, ‘No!’ ”
Reeves and his cohorts report that delegates to the convention found colorful ways to amuse themselves during slack periods. Some went to The Bottomless Pit,” an Upper Fast Side tavern where barmaid Mary Ault was reported to he “often the only woman in the place with any clothes on.”
An unidentified governor registered in two different hotels, in one under his correct name.
Convention does not have an obviously serious message to transmit about the way Americans choose their Presidents. But if unpleasant truths may he thought to balance unrealizable ideals, this ruthlessly blunt view of Presidentchoosing belongs on everyone’s shelf of books about how politicians go about their business.
—C. Michael Curtis