3:36pm

Sat August 11, 2012
Politics

What's In A Keynote? Making A Splash At Conventions

Originally published on Sat August 11, 2012 7:30 pm

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

So now that we know who Mitt Romney's running mate is, what about the keynote speaker at the Republican Convention later this month? No word yet. Democrats have announced that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will get that coveted spot that has, in the past, served as a platform for bigger things.

Castro joins a pantheon of past keynote speakers - people like Ronald Reagan and Barbara Jordan, Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton and, of course, Barack Obama. And political scientist Costas Panagopoulos, who studies party conventions, was actually at that 2004 Democratic Convention when the then-relatively unknown Barack Obama dazzled the delegates.

COSTAS PANAGOPOULOS: I remember being on the floor of the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004 listening to Obama deliver his speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2004 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Do we participate in a politics of cynicism, or do we participate in a politics of hope?

PANAGOPOULOS: I turned to a friend of mine who was a former congressman and I was there with, and I said: This guy's going to be president of the United States one day. I didn't know that it would be four years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2004 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

OBAMA: It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs.

PANAGOPOULOS: Obama had a gift for delivering a speech that had impact.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2004 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

OBAMA: The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

RAZ: Barack Obama, of course, that was his kind of debut on the national stage. Similarly, in 1988, Democrats picked Bill Clinton who, of course, went on to win the election four years later. The point at which he received his biggest applause line was when he finished.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1988 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION]

)

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: In closing...

PANAGOPOULOS: Now, part of the problem for Bill Clinton in 1988 is that his speech was not the most memorable moment in the convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1988 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

ANN RICHARDS: I'm delighted to be here with you this evening.

PANAGOPOULOS: I remember watching that convention in '88. The most memorable part of that convention was really Ann Richards who was the Texas state treasurer at the time. She said, you know, poor George.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1988 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

RICHARDS: Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

PANAGOPOULOS: It brought the audience to its feet, and I remember even the viewing audience on television. I mean, that was really the most memorable part of that convention for many people.

RAZ: Let's go back to 1964 - because I know you've written about this - Ronald Reagan in '64 at the Republican Convention. Barry Goldwater was the nominee that year. That was also a big moment for Ronald Reagan, who, of course, became a star, the future of the party.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1964 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Thank you and good evening.

PANAGOPOULOS: Ronald Reagan became the personification of this attempt to reach out to moderate Republicans at the time who may have been concerned about Goldwater's conservatism and to showcase the incredible diversity within the party.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1964 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION)

REAGAN: I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course.

PANAGOPOULOS: And incidentally, this set up Ronald Reagan to go on and run for governor in California and win and then ultimately president.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1964 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION)

REAGAN: If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth.

RAZ: In 1992, George H.W. Bush, running for re-election - his campaign decided to pick Pat Buchanan, who mounted a primary challenge against President Bush at the time to be the keynote speaker, a decision, I gather, that some in the Bush campaign came to regret afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1992 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION)

PAT BUCHANAN: There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself.

PANAGOPOULOS: The decision to allow Buchanan to speak created problems for the party.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1992 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION)

BUCHANAN: And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton and Clinton are on the other side and George Bush is on our side.

PANAGOPOULOS: We did have a lot of Republicans at the time who were backtracking to reassure voters that the party was not as conservative as Pat Buchanan may have wanted it to be, and that George Herbert Walker Bush was more moderate and an ability to try to reach out to moderates and independents who would have been critical in that election cycle.

Thinking back to the 1980 convention when Ted Kennedy, who had contested the incumbent president at the time, Jimmy Carter, that was a pretty hard-fought race for the nomination. But the speech that Kennedy delivered at that convention was meant to heal.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1980 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

TED KENNEDY: For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

PANAGOPOULOS: And that's remembered as a seminal moment in the career of Ted Kennedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1980 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION)

KENNEDY: The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

RAZ: That's the late Ted Kennedy speaking at the Democratic Convention in 1980. We've been speaking with Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University. Costas, thanks so much.

PANAGOPOULOS: My pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: And you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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