Lost Zing of Political Conventions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Lost Zing of Political Conventions


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Am I missing something or have political conventions lost their zing? As we move toward the Great Democrat and Republican Money Wasting Infomercials of 2004, one fears these anachronisms might actually be mistaken by the mindless as important aspect of the American democratic experience.

In an idyllic world, a political convention gathers elected party leaders to meet, debate the issues, and set a platform. Then delegates listen intently to the vetted candidates for their wisdom, their consistency and strengths on the issues. Conventioneers make choices in a spontaneous, thoughtful and democratic process. And the news media makes every American a shareholder in this process by providing wall-to-wall, 24-hour-a day coverage and talking heads who enlighten us with their insights.

Today's reality bears little resemblance to this myth. Time, television and intemperance have changed everything.

My informal poll of wise political pundits asked the question: "Why do we need political conventions?" The result? Not one sapient answer. More than one wise sage opened with the phrase, "In the old days. ..."

More like, "Once upon a time."

So let's focus upon the key words of our idyllic definition of a political convention: Spontaneous, debate, issues, vetted, thoughtful and shareholder.

Al Gore spontaneously smacked a gigantic liplock on Tipper during the 2000 Democratic Convention, right? And the long, dramatic walk of Bill Clinton, inspired and directed by Harry Thomason, failed on spontaneity but could pass as thoughtful.

The candidates have been "vetted," if one can use so strong a word, by a primary circus that mostly checks the stamina and smile muscles of those capable of visiting upon the faithful a moving, patriotic yet necessarily vague speech while keeping one's hair combed. After months of question dodging, stump speechifying, late nights, early mornings, flapjack flipping and chicken dining, a winner emerges as the people's choice. Almost always he was the party's choice from the outset.

The vetting process is imperfect at best. Dan Quayle, chosen by his party's presidential candidate and approved by the convention, failed miserably in a 1988 debate. He still became vice president. But ask Howard Dean about spontaneity and the vetting process.

So who picks the candidates at the outset? The pundits say the parties "encourage" their best candidates to run but "the people" make the crucial choice during the primary season. And then the convention endorses the primary survivors. Ha.

Many a handsome young man looked at himself in the mirror and uttered the historic words: "I could be president." So really it is ego or vanity, not the solons of the party, deciding why many run. So much for vetted and chosen by the convention.

The conventions are, of course, thoughtful. …

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