“Was this the worst political convention is all of human history?” I was asked repeatedly during the Republican convention in Augusta.

The question is easily answered: No.

Connoisseurs of chaos must look elsewhere for history’s worst convention.

The 1952 GOP gathering in Chicago resulted in fist-fights and choruses of boos. Rep. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., reminiscing later during a speech in Old Orchard Beach, compared it to Maine’s storm-driven tides.

The George McGovern-Hubert Humphrey clash at the 1968 Democratic Convention spilled over into the streets and resulted in actual bloodshed. There was no booing, fisticuffs or bloodshed in Augusta.

The 1920 GOP convention in Chicago went through 10 ballots in 100-degree heat. I think some delegates actually dissolved, and their remains had to be mopped up by the janitors. We didn’t see a trickle of sweat in Augusta. Delegates may have suffered agonies from boredom during the long, long dead periods, but their suffering was mental, not physical.

In 1860, Democrats went through 67 ballots at their Charleston, S.C., meeting without choosing a nominee. They reconvened in Baltimore, where everything fell apart, with the southern delegates departing to hold their own convention in another hall. There was still a single Maine Republican Party on May 6.

There have been many more horrible conventions than the one in Augusta, but the worst of all was surely the one held in the Sultanate of Dismailia during the last three months of 1896.

It resulted in 183 dead, more than 500 wounded and 18 irreconcilable factions with no nominee. It ended only when Sultan Gnashgnackh the Merciful stepped in to execute the survivors and cancel the elections. Public opinion approved his majesty’s decision and no further experiments with democratic government have been tried there since.

We must hope that no American president notices and decides to attempt another experiment in nation-building in that inhospitable country. The last foreign intervention there took place in 1902 when a Royal Bulgarian Army expedition landed on the Viper Coast.

In three days, half the force was dead from snake bites and tropical diseases unheard of in any other region. The remaining troops shot their officers and fled across the border into the Kingdom of Hocsuntleonis. Afghanistan would be a walk in downtown Farmington by comparison.

But I digress. May’s Republican gathering was far from the smoothest convention in American history. It was chaotic. It failed to showcase the party’s congressional candidates. This year’s legislative elections were almost entirely forgotten. A party platform was adopted as afterthought, largely unread, by a doubtful quorum.

In the end, however, it was far from the worst such event in American history. In truth, it simply exemplified the old adage about democracy being a messy business.

Many old convention hands, not all of them Mitt Romney enthusiasts, were exasperated by the Ron Paul enthusiasts, but I feel obliged to put in a good word for their organizers.

It became evident during their pre-convention meeting Friday night that they were at pains to avoid chaos and tumult. They were single-mindedly fixed on one goal: to elect Paul delegates to the national convention.

They were not interested in a platform fight, and tactfully deflected a pest who wanted to introduce the subject on Friday. They were there on the floor on Saturday and Sunday with QUIET signs ready, in order to calm the zealots.

There had been fears of boos and jeers directed at retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is the face of the centrist “establishment” they despise. Her speech passed without interruption. Sen. Susan Collins’s remarks were received with some approval.

It could have been won a lot worse. The Paul people elected their delegates by real majorities. They had a real grassroots organization. Romney’s people had a lawyer. There was enough irregularity and confusion to give him grounds for challenging Maine’s delegates in Tampa, and submitting a bill with multiple digits.

In my opinion, that would be a pity. The Paul supporters’ victory was won by hard work, not chicanery. They deserve their seats in Tampa.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a retired professor and former Republican candidate for Congress.


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