An unconsummated hate can be almost as unsettling as an unrequited love. After all its decisions were made, the Republican convention was nonetheless inconclusive. Reagan’s forces won every battle, and lost the war. They humiliated Ford without defeating him. The President crawled through to the nomination on his knees; and, while he was down there anyway, embraced Dole as his vice president. The ticket needed balance, and Mr. Ford is obviously nice.
The scattered impact of it all was augmented by the convention’s physical setting. Kansas City tends to wander, like the attention of its visitors. Near the mushy junction of the Kaw River with the Missouri, Kansas City survived when other landings had been washed away; it straddles rock outcroppings. This meant gullies had to be bridged or ignored as the city reached out to neighbor bastions. The result is episodic, like the convention that chased around the city trying to find itself.
Whenever Kansas City picks a rocky height and decides to build on it, it builds big. Tom Pendergast encouraged that, since the biggest buildings used most of his Red-D-Mix cement—including Harry Truman’s Jackson County courthouse. Truman liked to boast he brought in outside (read: honest) architects to construct that pile. Pendergast didn’t care: he would pour cement to anybody’s plan. He even poured a broad deep bed for a creek in the fake “Seville” called Country Club Plaza. His style continues in sedater monuments. When Joyce Hall (of “Hallmark” valentines and dollar signs) wanted to put something on Signboard Hill, he poured more concrete than most state highways contain. The resulting Crown Center is waste and scary as a Chirico above, but a labyrinth of boutique-warrens down below. The hotel lodged in the “complex” is plashy with fake waterfalls—three fountains in a coin. The president stayed there, where the week’s craziest party was held—and also the best party.
Begin with the best. Under the twisted sail-canvas shelters of Crown Center’s plaza, Carl Privaterra held a “Festa Italiana” on the opening weekend of the convention. The Italian community—which furnished hit-men to Pendergast, like Johnny Lazia and Charley Carolla—sang and danced more engagingly than anyone else would do all week. Unfortunately, Mr. Privaterra went on to the other party, inside the President’s hotel, where he was asked to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and forgot “under God” before “indivisible.” The patriots were reduced to a gabble and disjunct patter toward the end.
This party was held by the “US Citizens’ Congress,” with Secretaries William Simon and Earl Butz as guests of honor. Rabbi Baruch Korff, a leader of the Citizens’ Congress, embraced both men as they came in, and lobbied delegates to voice a demand that he address the convention on President Nixon’s behalf. Republicans are wonderfully polite—they let the rabbi babble, and tried to think of ways to help him. Mr. Butz spent much of his speech praising Mr. Simon. Then, when Simon praised him in return, the secretary of agriculture threw pennies up over the…
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