Technology and talk in politics

In 1996, Andy Rooney wondered whether political ideas were as clever as the technology that broadcast them. He didn't think so

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The following is commentary from Andy Rooney that was originally broadcast on August 11, 1996.

I've been here in San Diego for a couple of days now, waiting for the Republican delegates to show up and start their convention tomorrow. San Diego's a nice place to wait.

The politicians, the newspapers and magazines and television networks have tons of equipment here. We've been watching them install it.

1996: Where to stay when attending the DNC

Every place you go there are wires. When they were laying the floor in the convention center they had to cut notches in the two-by-fours to accommodate the wires. There are bundles and spools of the stuff everywhere, as wasteful as a war. Great masses of wire and cable come cascading down the walls here. If you wanted to string a line to the life they just think they found on Mars, there's enough wire to reach there.

They've put metal ramps in the streets near the convention center. The bundles of wire are strung underneath them so they won't be run over by cars and trucks. That could be serious for a speaker here.

Unidentified Man #1: ...that an election should be (slows to slurred speech as car drives over ramp) a celebration of democracy. Now your response tonight...

Nobody knows where all the wires go.

Rooney asks man: You know what this one is here? Seems like an awful lot of wires.

Unidentified Man #2: It's way too many, but that's what we're here for.

You wonder whether some of them go anywhere. Who communicates over them? What do they say?

Our technology in the field of communications has exceeded the importance of any thought we have to transmit. Television itself is an incredible invention, but are the ideas that come into your living room as profound or as interesting as the invention itself? I don't think so.

This is my workplace here at the convention. Look at the wires under the desk there. Am I saying anything important enough to warrant someone paying for all that?

I'm looking into a camera that cost $ 200,000. Here I am, sitting in San Diego. My picture is going by fiber optic cable to New York and then it's being broadcast across the country from there. That's how it'll get to television sets here in San Diego, where I am. Now why can't I think of anything to say as good, as important and as clever as that is?

What goes on at one of these political conventions -- the windy speeches, the petty arguments, the posturing by the delegates, the hot air from we broadcasters -- doesn't justify the technology that it takes to get it to you. I'm afraid our science exceeds our culture.