Eliminate the conventions

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe’s conservative columnist, recently called for the elimination of national political party conventions.

To which we say, yes, indeed.

What a colossal waste of time and, it turns out, of taxpayers’ money.

According to Jacoby, taxpayers “kick in a thumping $136 million in federal funds” for the conventions – for both, not for each – and then he asks in his column, “And for what? Most voters watch little or none of the televised convention proceedings.”

We believe that.

Oh, certainly many people tune in to watch/hear specific speakers – Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton – but it isn’t like the old days when people really watched, really thought they might learn something. Here is something else Jacoby wrote that, we think, puts it into perspective:

“Ah, for the good old days, when party conventions really mattered. They may not have had a national TV audience or air conditioning; they had to make do without balloon drops, iPad apps, or a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stage. But nominating conventions in decades past had something today’s vast high-tech pageants lack: an authentic and indispensable role in the nation’s democratic process.

“The (current) conventions, by contrast, deprived of their essential purpose, have been reduced to an exercise in mutual self-aggrandizement. The two major parties garner obsessive press attention – media organizations sent 15,000 employees to Tampa for the Republican convention – without generating any real news. The media, in turn, make a great show of being eyewitnesses to history, when all they’re really witnessing is an immense infomercial.”

The last convention that was anything but an anointing of a preselected candidate was the 1968 Democratic debacle in Chicago. True, Hubert Humphrey came in with enough delegates to get the nod, but given the protests in the streets, given the reaction of Mayor Richard Daley, given the police over-reaction, it was touch and go for a bit and, if nothing else, dramatic thanks to the non-convention events.

But the way primaries have taken over, the only point of the conventions is … well, just go back to what Jacoby wrote.

We understand why political parties want to gather and formally crown their champions, but it really has gotten to the point of absurdity. Witness the fact that the major networks didn’t start covering any day’s events until 9, sometimes 10 p.m. (Apparently we missed a brilliant talk by Boston Mayor Tom Menino in which he referenced the American Civil Rights icon “Martha Luther King.” No kidding. Boston sports talk radio kept playing that clip the day after the mayor spoke.)

It is highly unlikely that either party will give up its three-day orgy of self-congratulations. It’s sort of like nuclear disarmament: You go first. No, you go first. No, because if I go first, you won’t go.

Perhaps, though, they could find some way to make them more relevant but until two candidates come out of the primaries tied in number of delegates, that’s unlikely.

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