5 Myths about Political Conventions

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 25, 2012 | Go to article overview

5 Myths about Political Conventions


Until the modern primary and caucus system was established in the 1970s, the political conventions held a lot more significance; they were where the parties actually picked the nominees. Yet, despite the fact that we have known the identities of this year's nominees for months, the conventions still matter. Here are a few myths.

1. Nothing substantive comes out of the conventions.

The conventions give the parties a chance to shape their images and platforms.

In some years, the parties have emerged from the conventions with sharply contrasting tones. For example, when the Democrats were split over the Vietnam War in 1968, the party's elites picked Vice President Hubert Humphrey at the convention in Chicago and the anti- war faction went ballistic.

The Republican Party met in Miami Beach and had a tranquil coronation of Richard Nixon. The GOP came out looking better -- and went on to win in November.

The chaos in Chicago led to the reforms that created the modern nominating system.

The 1992 conventions pitted Republican culture warriors Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, whose calls to "take back our country" sounded tone-deaf to many voters, against Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who projected youth, vitality and progress. The country rewarded their social liberalism in November as George H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term.

And in 2004, each convention sought to portray its candidate as a war hero. The Democrats made John Kerry's service in Vietnam a key theme, only to see it tarnished by the swift boat ad campaign.

George W. Bush, who did not see combat in Vietnam, trumpeted his strong leadership after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and during the still-popular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. The nominee's speech is the most important part of the convention.

Other speeches can have a lasting effect on the rest of the campaign.

In 1980, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's attempt to challenge President Jimmy Carter for the Democrats' nomination failed. But Kennedy's words at the convention proved memorable. His "the dream shall never die" speech, imploring the party to renew its commitment to economic justice, roused convention-goers to their feet. …

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