Conventions: What Are They Good For?
Published on: August 27, 2012
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  • Mrs. Davis

    Comparing our conventions to a G20 summit is a low blow indeed.

  • Michael K

    100% agreement. I was born in 1968 so the only half exciting moment in a convention I remember was in 1980 when Kennedy tried to get a rule passed to allow delagates a free vote for the POTUS nomination. My eyes rolled over the faux outrage from the RNC over how they would not cover Mrs. Romney’s speech initially scheduled for Monday night. I will be watching zero minutes of convention coverage.

  • AKAK

    Would have been Edwin Starr, as opposed to Edwin Carr who was a classical composer.

  • Mrs. Davis

    @Michael K. Here’s what the old conventions looked like. Go to 17:00 for the great line that would never happen today. But all of it gives a flavor of how it was done before it was done for television.

    It should also be noted that the reason we don’t have conventions like this any more is primaries. Power has gone from the state and local party bosses to the consultants who package the candidates and wrap up the delegates before the convention. No more uncommitted favorite sons who can deal for their votes. I’m not sure we’re better off, but we’re not going back.

  • Kenny

    True, political conventions no longer select the party’s candidates, but they do serve the very real purpose of bring party members from across the country together in a common cause.

    The point you miss. Mr. Mead, is that the conventions are for the parties, not the public.

  • ChiRob

    My thoughts exactly!

    How dare those dastardly networks interrupt my reality shows, pre-season football, and porn-lite prime-time soap operas with something that even remotely has to do with political issues and my tiresome and only intermittently honored obligation as a citizen to pick a president and other leaders!!?? Modern political conventions are the most pernicious bowdlerization I’ve seen since those comic book-versions of the classics for elementary school kids. If they’re not reading Plato in the original Greek at 8, like John Stuart Mill, they should just forget about it.

    While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the State of the Union address too. It’s just a self-promoting laundry list of achievements and false promises, and nothing like it used to be, say, back in 1862, when Lincoln gave a rather good one, or 1941, when FDR at least did a passable job. Hey, all you kiddies out there, read your Cicero if you really want to see a good republican in action.

    Now, pardon me as I still the troubled waters of my dudgeon by treating myself to an essay by Arendt, From Kant to Geisteskrank: A Survey of German Thought in Amerika.

  • Rhodium Heart

    I hate to correct you on a point of general knowledge because I am seriously in awe of your superior intellect (not being sarcastic: I’m being genuine), but your comment in the fifth paragraph about the appendix is outdated. It is not a vestigial organ, as what thought for the last 100 years or so. It is the body’s germ incubator, restoring our precious flora and fauna of bacteria and microorganisms which we’ve only recently come to realize are indispensable to health and existence. So give the appendix its due!

  • Anthony

    An author once called conventions the greatest show on earth – ballyhoo, hoopla, impresarios, etc. That said, there persistence today has been cogently summed up as “mutual dependencies of politicians and the press.”

    Nevertheless, permit me to conclude that they also perform a legitimating function as well as channel political expression; further when mangnified by partisanship, conventions facilitate millions to vote if not for then against someone. Essentially, they provide form of Republican government with very little substance while giving appearance of popular participation. In that regard WRM, they are good for…

  • thibaud

    Correction: “Conventions today are footnotes to the political process; the more thoughtful press – the NY Times, NPR, WaPo, The Atlantic, TNR – treats them as such.”

  • John Burke

    Cranky know-it-all scolds like Mead have been telling us that the conventions are meaningless charades since the 1950s, indeed, ever since they have been broadcast on TV. The reason supposed is that when conventions no longer feature multiple ballots, even scores of ballots, sometimes yielding dark horse candidates, they have outlived their usefulness. Through the 60s and 70s, David Brinkley specialized in declaiming this tedious skepticism, even as delegates sometimes came close to blows.

    We are now at the point in our history when these drama-free conventions have been going on nearly as long as the frenetic 100-ballot type. It’s time to retire the tiresome scolding and understand that conventions, as giant pep rallies, if you prefer, are very useful to candidates, parties and voters. Political campaigns are after all prolonged pep rallies of one sort or another. The professor will search in vain this fall for a more “serious political event” than the conventions.

  • Luke Lea

    Before nuclear weapons Winston Churchill disagreed: so far from not settling anything he claimed wars settled everything. So I guess maybe modern media are like nukes in so far as political conventions are concerned?

  • Corlyss

    Not much. It’s been decades since I watched a convention. What’s said about them is a lot more important than what’s said during them. Let’s face it: most people watch in hopes of seeing a “cockroach crash”. They’re hoping for a monumental gaff that will suddenly make the convention momentarily relevant. If Mia Love gets to speak, her speech might be the debut of a future GOP star. Other than that, I’m watching dvds.

  • Mahon

    I think you are wrong. The conventions serve a number of functions, some of which are worthy of national attention. They give the parties an opportunity to present their “rising stars” to a national audience (BHO in 2004, for example.) They allow the nation to get a good look at the candidates of the “out” party, who are likely not as well known as the “ins.” (This is of course why your so-called thoughtful media want to down-play them this year. God forbid the American people should get a good look at Paul Ryan!) They are part of the extended ritual whereby a vast diverse nation can sort itself into two potential governing coalitions. I think the networks and the people can spare two weeks every two years to get these things done.

  • Mahon

    Edit to previous comment: two weeks every four years, obviously.

    Also, WRM, you want Romney to define himself, but you undermine one of the best opportunities for him (or any national candidate) to do that. This seems contradictory to me.

  • Anthony

    Correction @8: their persistence….

  • Eurydice

    Yeah, all that. But to me, today’s conventions are more about what’s next for the party rather than what’s happening now. Everybody knows who’s on the ballot now, but nobody knows which of the hopefuls will capture interest or go down in flames. Think of how many times we’ve heard of a future candidate “coming out of nowhere” during a convention. It’s like an audition process.

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