Sunday, September 9, 2012

Conventions aren't what they were

I miss the old days.

I watched snippets of the Republican and Democratic conventions the past couple of weeks. Let's face it: Neither convention was very exciting. In fact, in this age of primaries that settle the nominating process long before the convention convenes — delegates are obligated to a candidate by the primary rules, leaving no room for the wheelin' and dealin' that characterized conventions in the old days.

And both parties have become so cognizant of the impact of convention themes and presentations on voters, that they carefully script every minute of the conventions, intent upon putting on a good show for the electorate rather than settling intra-party disputes or establishing a strategic vision for the country. So what we have is a dog-and-pony show (or maybe an elephant-and-donkey show) designed to inspire the faithful and attract the undecided.

Conventions weren't always this way. Presidential nominations used to be decided after multiple ballots, with negotiating and swapping going on between ballots. The first convention I remember watching was the 1960 Democratic Convention. John F. Kennedy came to the convention with the largest number of delegates but not a majority. It took some trading (Lyndon Johnson became the vice presidential nominee) for JFK to get the first ballot victory.

And no convention has been as exciting or as exasperating as the 1968 Democratic Convention with the protests in the street, the arrest of a reporter on the convention floor and all the rest of the uncertainty about what might be said or done next.

So why are we still having conventions if the nomination is predetermined by the primary results? They are now intended solely to build up public support for the Republicans and Democrats and have no other valid purpose. Why then is Congress giving $4 million in taxpayer funds to each party for holding its convention? Neither the Republican budget cutters nor the Democratic deficit hawks have proposed ending this waste!

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