Saturday, July 11, 2020

'Such Is the Fate of a V.P.'

Since my last day working on campus – St. Patrick’s Day – I’ve followed the news even less than usual. In my newspaper days I got most of my updates via the car radio, and hardly looked at our own pages. Pre-COVID-19, that was still the case, but now I seldom drive. We don’t have cable and I haven’t watched a television news show since the Carter administration. When the first Gulf War was raging, just to be obnoxious I told an  ambitious young reporter I got my news from The Iliad. In 1924, H.L. Mencken wrote of our quadrennial clambakes:

“There is something about a national convention that makes it as fascinating as a revival or a hanging. It is vulgar, it is ugly, it is stupid, it is tedious. It is hard upon both the higher cerebral centers and the gluteus maximus, and yet it is somehow charming.”

Still true, all except the “charming” part. Mencken’s enjoyment of human perversity exceeded my own.

On this date, July 11, in 1952, the painter Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) drives southeast out of Buffalo, N.Y., “to make studies of maple trunks for the ‘Drought Sun’ picture.” He finds a suitable spot and notes: “I ate my lunch here – listening to the preliminary business at the Republican Convention. After eating, I walked around a bit trying to find the right subject, but could not – so, on east –.” He finds a pleasant scene, sets up in the shade of a willow, and writes:

“Unable to resist – I tuned in on the convention – voting already in progress – Florida answering the roll call. As one of the delegate[s] demanded a roll call of his state – I took the time to set up my easel. Then back to the radio. When another state – also had to go thru a manly man roll call, I took time to lay out my composition.”

We get the impression Burchfield, whose politics I know nothing about, is not obsessed with the news out of Chicago. It’s more of a benign distraction, something to fill the air. He next comments:

“It is curious to me, that I was able to carry on these two activities at once, without having the political convention spoil the mood of my painting. I felt I ought not listen, but could not resist. I got back to the radio just a moment too late to hear the moment when Minnesota threw all their votes to Eisenhower (who was 9 short of a majority on the first ballot) thus giving him the nomination.”

No editorializing, positive or negative. Later, Burchfield tunes in to a Canadian radio station and listens to Haydn’s Symphony #97. He concludes:     

“Home after sundown, listening first to a concert from Vancouver, then to the acceptance speeches of Eisenhower and his running mate – (already I cannot think of it – such is the fate of a V.P.)”

That would be Richard Nixon.

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