Issue 27

Termination: State of the Union

State of the Union.


20 September 2012

Text:/ Graeme Hague

You may have noticed it’s an election year in the US. Voting isn’t compulsory, but many of the people who do cast their ballot take it very seriously indeed. The flag-waving, the banners, the car antennae pennants… you’d think it was the football grand final to end all grand finals, not a mere selection process for presidential candidates.

The respective conventions for the Republican and Democratic parties are huge events with huge production and they both hit a few glitches this year. The Republicans had to cancel Day 1 because of a pesky hurricane lurking off the Florida coast. Fortunately it didn’t cause too many problems, since apparently nobody really important was scheduled to speak – it seems the opening day of Republican conventions is the political equivalent of the crowd warm-up session or a kind of technical rehearsal featuring a bunch on nobodies. So the production crews got a bonus day off and didn’t have to suffer through the support acts. Brilliant.

A week later and just up the road in Charlotte, North Carolina, the President or the United States, Barack Obama, made what must have been one of the most difficult decisions of his political career. Bomb Iraq? Invade Mexico? No, nothing so trivial.

He decided to move the Democratic convention from an outdoor arena to a smaller, indoor venue, again because the weather was looking a bit dodgy (storms this time, not even a proper hurricane).

I’m in no position to judge the Prez occasionally invading naughty Middle East countries, toppling despots and playing chicken with the entire Chinese Navy, but this is totally irresponsible. It must have meant an enormous logistical exercise. Has he got any idea of the trouble everyone had gone to in preparing the original venue? The countless PA systems, lighting rigs and staging, not to mention OB setups for every television channel in the US (okay, maybe not The Simpsons Channel). President of the United States or not, you can’t just squint at some threatening clouds at the eleventh hour, wave a presidential stick and say, ‘Looks like rain. The missus has just had her hair done. We’d better move inside.’ There are consequences to consider.

This happened to me once – slightly different circumstances, of course and the US President wasn’t involved, but you’ll relate.


I was the backstage boss of a performing arts centre. On a day when we were closed and all happily at home, next to us at an outdoor sound shell the city was holding an afternoon of Christmas Carols. Unexpected summer storms were threatening a washout. The guy who organised the show was also a local councillor up for re-election and chairman of the board of directors for our PAC. Sensing an opportunity he put his hand up and announced to the crowd that he’ll arrange for the PAC to be opened up and the show would go on. Free of charge, on the house. He also figured that since it was Christmas and a Sunday the staff and crew would be expected to freely donate their time. Odd logic, at best.

So I got the call. Being an experienced professional and taking the situation immediately in my stride, my response was, ‘You want to (expletive deleted) what? Are you insane?’

To be fair, there was a kind of nasty, pay dispute happening at the time and no one was feeling particularly charitable, Christmas or not. After some earnest discussion we came to a reasonable compromise. We got him the keys to the building, someone would show him the switch for the fluorescent work lights and we gave him strict instructions to make sure he locked the bloody door on his way out.

This power-mad fool had no concept of what it might take to call in a competent and willing crew (hell, even finding them was an issue) and put together a safe production, all at the drop of a miter, by technicians prepared to work for nothing on a Sunday.


Similarly, Barack Obama plainly didn’t talk to the right people to understand exactly what he was asking for. He would have been surrounded by shiny suits all acquiescing to his every demand. Instead, he should have sought out someone wearing a lot of scruffy black with a utility belt filled with torches and tools, preferably with the toe of one sandshoe worn through – the sign of true experience. Asking if the convention venue could be moved would have resulted in a meeting being called, possibly even a serious fag-break-next-to-the-truck kind of meeting with a lot of muttering, shaking of heads and discreet texting to mates. The answer, not surprisingly, would have been “no”. The responsible answer.

In other words, if Barack Obama had held the Democratic Convention in regional Australia, say Dubbo or Adelaide, then tried to shift the venue at the last minute to somewhere smaller, simply because the weather was looking a bit iffy, he would have gotten a quick reality check. Told to toughen up, princess and given an umbrella.

After all, who the hell does he think he is?


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Issue 27