SAMMY DAVIS RICHARD NIXON
Jim Palmer  /  AP file
Sammy Davis Jr. hugs President Nixon during the Republicans' 1972 convention.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 8/28/2004 6:03:02 PM ET 2004-08-28T22:03:02

Who said political conventions are boring? Well, OK, most of you. But recent history is full of wonderful and embarrassing colorful moments from inside the convntion hall. Here are some of my favorites:

When they eat their own

1964:

New York Governor Rockefeller is booed by fellow Republicans. Rockefeller: "Some of you don't like to hear it, ladies and gentlemen, but it's the truth."

1968: Anti-war protesters rock the streets of Chicago during the Democratic convention. During his podium speech, Senator Abe Ribicoff is jeered by fellow Democrat, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Ribicoff: "And with George McGovern as president of the United States, we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago."

1980: After President Carter's acceptance speech at the New York Democratic convention, Sen. Ted Kennedy, an opponent during the primary, appears on the crowded dais. Fresh off a stirring speech, Kennedy seems to be avoiding Carter as the nominee is seeking to lock arms. At one point Carter looks like he’s even trying to hunt down Kennedy. Kennedy finally does shake hands with Carter, but the two never make the traditional podium embrace.

1996: Anti-abortion activist and Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey is denied the right to speak at the Chicago Democratic convention. Casey at a press conference: "I ask only that those who believe in the right to life be given the right to speak."

Celebrity appearances

1960: Kennedy family friend Frank Sinatra opens the Democratic convention with a jazzy rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." He and the "Rat Pack" — Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop — roam the floor of the convention hall.

1964: Ronald Reagan is still an actor-turned-corporate pitchman when he speaks at the Republican convention.

1972: In Miami, Richard Nixon gets a big hug from Sammy Davis Jr., Davis says: "The president and the future president of the United States of America."

1984: Ray Charles does a stirring rendition of "America" at the Dallas Republican convention and is joined by the president and Mrs. Reagan.

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1992: Al Gore says, "I've been dreaming of this moment since I was a kid growing up in Tennessee — that one day I would come to Madison Square Garden and be the warm-up act for Elvis."

1996: Christopher Reeve appears at the Chicago Democratic convention in his wheelchair. Reeve: "President Roosevelt showed us that a man who could barely lift himself out of a wheelchair could still lift a nation out of despair. And I believe — and so does this administration — in the most important principle FDR taught us: America does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves."

2000: World Wrestling Federation star "The Rock" addresses the Republican convention. He wears a white suit, not his ring outfit.

Enriching the political lexicon

1932:
FDR says, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people."

1964: Barry Goldwater says, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

1964: LBJ says, "This nation, this generation and this hour is man's first chance to build the Great Society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor."

1988: President Bush says, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

1992: Bill Clinton says, "I still believe in the promise of America. And I still believe in a place called Hope."

Embarrassing moments, flubs and bad speeches

1952:
Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s speech is so bad it ensures the nomination of his rival, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.

1972: A weary George McGovern finally gets to make his speech as his party's nominee at 2 a.m. Says he: "I'm happy to join you for this benediction of our Friday sunrise service. I assume that everyone here is impressed with my control of this convention in that my choice for vice president was challenged by only 39 other nominees. But I think we learned from watching the Republicans four years ago as they selected their vice presidential nominee that it pays to take a little more time."

1976: John Glenn's rising political career crashes when his dull keynote speech dooms his chances of becoming Jimmy Carter’s running mate.

1980: D’Oh! Jimmy Carter: "And we're the party of a gallant man of spirit, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And we're the party of a great leader of compassion, Lyndon Baines Johnson. And the party of a great man who should have been president, who would have been one of the greatest presidents in history, Hubert Horatio Hornblower — Humphrey.

1984: Walter Mondale intentionally says this bit of unhelpful rhetoric: "Let's tell the truth. That must be done. It must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes and so will I. He won't tell you; I just did."

1988: Bill Clinton drones on and on in Atlanta for 32 minutes. Delegates jeer, "Get off, get off." Then they cheer these words: "In conclusion..." Clinton then goes on the "Tonight Show" to joke about it with Johnny Carson and Carson pops out an egg timer.

1992: Bill Clinton at the next convention: "Well, I ran for president this year for one reason and one reason only: I wanted to come back to this convention and finish that speech I started four years ago!"

1996: House Speaker Newt Gingrich in San Diego, introducing Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kent Steffes at the Republican convention: "A mere 40 years ago, beach volleyball was just beginning. No bureaucrat would have invented it, and that's what freedom is all about."

1996: Al Gore in Chicago: "Tradition holds that this speech be delivered tomorrow night. But President Clinton asked me to speak tonight and you can probably guess the reason why — my reputation for excitement. This is some crowd. I've been watching you doing that macarena on television and if I could have your silence, I would like to demonstrate for you the Al Gore version of the macarena. Would you like to see it again?"

1996: Clinton's chief campaign strategist Dick Morris goes to Chicago on top of the world. He leaves in disgrace after a supermarket tabloid reported he had been consorting with a Washington prostitute for more than a year.

2000: Al Gore and Tipper passionately kiss on stage. Not embarrassing, just really icky. And further proof of how fun conventions can be.

Howard Mortman is a former producer for "Hardball with Chris Matthews."

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