Today CNN confirmed an earlier report about some particularly bad behavior at the Republican National Convention in Tampa: Two attendees apparently taunted an African-American CNN camera operator by throwing peanuts in her general direction and yelling words roughly transcribed as “this is how we feed animals.” They were ejected from the event by officials, and the RNC itself followed with a statement:
“Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behavior. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated.”
We certainly hope so! This incident looks very bad, and the fact that it happened on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech gives it a particularly heinous aftertaste, but we think it may have led us to a moment of revelation: When hundreds of people with strongly held and often dramatically conflicting opinions gather in a relatively small space for a short period of time, unsavory things sometimes happen! It’s amazing!
Get ready for a shock: This is hardly the first time that political party conventions, bad behavior and scandal have been spotted together. For example, this year’s soiree is nothing compared to the 1880 Republican Convention, a raucous event that ended in…MURDER!
(We’ve always wanted to do that.)
The Republicans dominated American politics at the time (largely due to a certain little incident called The Civil War), and an inevitable schism within the party itself pitted establishment “Stalwarts” against reform-minded “Half-Breeds” (great nickname, guys). It took 35 separate ballots for the party to choose James A. Garfield as a compromise candidate for president and the establishment man Chester A. Arthur as his running mate, but a certain self-described anarchist and wannabe lawyer named Charles J. Guiteau preferred Union commander Ulysses S. Grant as the Republican nominee—and he chose to air his grievances by stalking and assassinating poor Mr. Garfield! Yeah, don’t see that happening this year.
And of course, another kind of scandal took place at the 1968 Democratic Convention, when protesting crowds shaken by the Vietnam War and the very recent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. took to the streets only to be met by a very stubborn Chicago police force aided by members of the National Guard. Long story short: It ended very badly, and any mention of the incident divides a certain generation of Americans to this day.
So if you’re a bit weary of unflattering political stories, remember: This too shall pass. You can pretty much always say “It’s been worse.” Can you think of any other particularly egregious PR blunders that took place at party conventions or related gatherings?