They are trailing back from the battle now, a sad column of men and women who have seen too much and have become unhinged from it.
They are the survivors of the presidential conventions, bedraggled troops bearing the scars of insufficient of sleep, too much drink, too much food, and too much of one another.
It’s a terrible quadrennial ordeal. Yet gallant new generations throw themselves into the maelstrom as older ones, muttering “I like Ike” or “All the way with LBJ,” fade away, proud that they’ve survived the worst.
The media are the saddest of all.
Presidential conventions are all about the media, if not for the media. They’ve become the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner (Washington’s equivalent of the Oscars), dragged out over two weeks. The talking points are rehearsed in the primaries.
It’s not that the ladies and gentlemen of the press do not work very hard; it’s just that for two weeks, the pickings have been as slim as the expectations have been high.
The media at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., outnumbered the delegates by three to one, and by a similar ratio at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. That’s why so many reporters were busy interviewing other reporters.
Here’s how it went:
Periodically, a star flashed across the convention sky. Say Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, taking the podium at the Republican National Convention.
But what to write? What to broadcast? He’s said it all before. “Cuban American speaks of family values, love of mother and Mitt Romney’s leadership qualities.” No, no. This sort of thing just won’t do.
So the fourth estate had to ask each other: “What did you think of Rubio?” Tired journalists rambled on about Rubio’s importance in a swing state.
No wonder journalists of every stripe loved Clint Eastwood and the empty chair. Millions of words and thousands of broadcast hours were filled with discussions of the empty chair. Why did Eastwood do it? Were the convention organizers aware of what the grand old man of celluloid had in mind?
No matter. For convention talkers and typers, it was the gift that kept on giving. No need to dwell on those speeches about how much all politicians this time around so loved their families. Apparently, the purpose of government is mother love with commercial success.
With that sort of thing in lieu of news, you can understand why so many journalists, and the delegates they hounded for quotes, are exhibiting the disturbing traits of post-convention syndrome (PCS).
Delegates, of both parties, afflicted with PCS have been known to make speeches while wandering in their sleep. During these bouts of speech-walking, they shout to befuddled neighbors: “My wonderful mother came to this country with nothing but the values she passed on to me,” or “Small business is the engine of the economy.” Neighbors dial 911.
Those suffering from this stress disorder will recover in about three years, but there are some therapies that take effect more quickly.
For most delegates, the cure begins with the recognition that life doesn’t begin and end with whether small business is overtaxed, or whether it makes a difference if Chris Christie’s mama was Sicilian or just plain Italian.
For journalists, shock therapy cures it: a quick demotion to the police beat is sure-fire.
Contact King, host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, at firstname.lastname@example.org.