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Why have political conventions?

By Jack Ward
web posted August 18, 2008

In a few weeks both political parties will hold conventions to select their candidate for president of the United States. I'm old enough to remember when these conventions really meant something. I can recall the TV coverage of the conventions. The nominating process was quite unique. As the states were called, a state representative would stand and nominated their candidate. Often states would nominate their ‘favorite son'. Typically ‘favorite sons' were aging politicians that wanted to bask in the glory of being nominated for president. After the nominations, the first round of voting would weed out most of these ‘favorite sons' and only serious candidates remained. Then the state delegates would get serious about the selection process. After several rounds of voting a candidate was selected, the balloons were dropped, and everyone cheered.

This year, the conventions of both major parties are anti-climatic. It seems like the 2008 presidential campaign began years ago and both parties had about a dozen candidates that wanted to be president. Most voters are turned off and are suffering from election fatigue.  

The Republicans had several front runners. But as each rose to prominence they crashed and burned early. John McCain's campaign was pronounced dead shortly after the campaign began. But as other candidates fell out, McCain rose like the phoenix, and he is now the Republican presidential candidate.

Barack ObamaObama's odyssey is even weirder.  Of the dozen or so Democrat candidates for president, Obama is the least qualified. Obama's claim to fame was time spent as a community activist, a short stint as a state senator, and 143 days as a U.S. senator. A number of the Democratic candidates had pretty respectable resumes, but they lacked the charisma need to mesmerize the electorate and capture the nomination. As the weeding out process continued the Democrats had two unique candidates. Hillary, the first women to run for president was beaten by Obama, the first minority to make a serious run for president. But other than his oratory skills, Obama hasn't demonstrated the wisdom, knowledge, or the skills needed to be president. Obama is like a blank slate and the electorate can create the image of him they want.

But regardless of the past tradition of nominating the candidates at the conventions, both parties have already selected their candidates. So why have the conventions?  Oh yes! The vice president must be selected. But that is likely to happen before the conventions. In reality the conventions are anti-climatic.

Few will listen to the days of speeches but the delegates still will need to vote on the party's platforms. The platforms are intended to state the party's positions on the issues of the day. Platform committees fight for months on the content of the platforms. Thousands of trees are sacrificed to create these platforms. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page, are devoted to each party's ideology. But few delegates will even take the time to read the party's platform and the parties hope that few voters actually read the platforms.

The Democratic Party Platform is 54 pages of costly and inventive ways to give away the taxpayers money. Not only do the Democrats promise more control in the U.S. government schools but they have a "… goal of supporting a free, quality basic education for every child in the world."  This will go hand in hand with Obama's Global Poverty Act which will provide $845 billion to solve poverty in the world. If the Democrats have their way the U.S. taxpayer will be responsible for the care and feeding of the entire world. In spite of the United Nations inaction of Russia's recent invasion of the neighboring country of Georgia, the Democratic platform states "We believe that the United Nations is indispensable ...."  Yeah! Right!

In reality the platforms are created by party insiders and usually represent the extremes of the party. Few candidates know of or even agree with the platforms. In 1996, the Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was asked about the carefully crafted Republican Platform. Dole replied he hadn't read it. At least he was honest about how insignificant the candidates view the platforms.    
So the question remains, why have political conventions? The candidates are pre-determined, the speeches will be over-hyped, and the platforms are meaningless. So what is left besides the protest demonstrations and the afterhours parties?  For that you don't have to go to a political convention – just visit a nearby university frat party. ESR

(c) 2008, Jack Ward






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