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August 19, 2012 12:12 PM What’s The Point Of Conventions?

By Ben Jacobs

As the conventions approach, journalists are taking part in the great quadrennial August tradition of either defending these outmoded gatherings or suggesting changes.

In the era before modern Presidential primaries, conventions were where Presidential nominees were chosen and party platforms decided. Now, they have a mix of spectacle and carnival. Carefully staged and artfully choreographed speeches telegraph a campaign’s messaging for the fall. These are then followed by late night parties where celebrities and lobbyists hobnob with politicos (apparently the hot tickets in Charlotte this year will be parties hosted by Jay-Z and Google respectively).

The problem is that this is all funded by taxpayers and dominates the news with miscellany. (The first 100 stories about possible GOP shenanigans in Tampa’s famed strip clubs were fine, now it’s starting to get played out). Even the Ron Paul supporters trying to wage a factional battle at the convention—-which is supposed to be the actual purpose of these party gatherings—-are trying to make their efforts as low key as possible.

At this point, conventions are merely an obsolete vestige of an earlier era in politics. They serve no real purpose, other than a simple gathering, but that’s fine. After all, dentists and comic book fans have conventions, shouldn’t politicians too?

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.

Comments

  • Ron Byers on August 19, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Attending the all night parties at national convention is about the only reason a lot of worn out old gray hairs hold on to control of the Democratic party in the midwest making it very, very difficult for the party to recapture the enthusiasm of youth.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 19, 2012 1:26 PM:

    The networks cover the conventions. It's free advertising.

  • Nick on August 19, 2012 1:27 PM:

    Here's one ... every four years for the past 20 or so, it opens an opportunity for political bloggers to ask, "What's the point of conventions? They are stage-managed, etc. etc." By this time you guys can use a macro for the thing.

    I like to watch selected speeches and feel I'm part of the party. In 2008 I watched Obama with a group of about 300 supporters in a big hall, and it was fun, and inspiring. So there's that.

  • Jack G on August 19, 2012 1:35 PM:

    I don't know about dental conventions, but comic book conventions are open to anyone.
    Political conventions, on the other hand, employ thousands of police and security personnel, whose job it is to prevent anyone, not officially invited, from getting anywhere near the place.

  • Kathryn on August 19, 2012 2:25 PM:

    What has been glaring in recent elections has been the tone set by the two parties. Ever since the GOP featured that nasty cracker Sen. Zell Miller (a Democrat) spitting out vitriol and challenging Chris Matthews to a duel, I have been appalled by the orgy of hate, pasty whiteness and ignorance on display at their conventions. Still remember all the slobbering over Palin by the entire media including Matthews of MSNBC and it just gets worse. Expect Tampa to be a rerun and probably worse In terms of hatefulness. Too bad the elusive independents aren't watching because the Republicans do not charm and their lack of diversity is hard to miss, nothing but white, white, white and mostly seniors.

    The Democrats are diverse, the keynote speakers uplifting and even criticism of opponents is not venomous. Why nearly 50 percent of the voting public supports the approach of hate is beyond me, but it's getting harder to even remain on friendly terms with those who agree with them.

  • c u n d gulag on August 19, 2012 3:08 PM:

    Kathryn,
    Yeah, this years Republican Convention will look like it was a gathering of ancient rabid albino male zombies, with some black, brown, female, and young ones, for the networks covering 'Hate&FearFest 2012' to put on TV, so viewers don't think it's a gathering of ancient rabid albino male KKK zombies.

  • Linkmeister on August 19, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Kathryn, let me introduce you to Pat Buchanan's 1992 convention speech, which was the most divisive one ever delivered in my 48 years of political consciousness.

  • MelanieN on August 19, 2012 4:38 PM:

    Funded by taxpayers? Is that true?

  • Kathryn on August 19, 2012 4:42 PM:

    Read Buchanan speech Linkmeister, thanks for link. So yep, they 've been bigots for decades, Buchanan's last paragraph in that speech about the "mobs" rioting in Los Angeles sums up Patrick J. Buchanan. Was never so happy as the day they finally ditched him from MSNBC. He could never cover up his absolute bigotry towards African-Americans.

    You're right Gulag, the GOP will try to cover up their whiteness with well paid brown spokespeople.

  • Kathryn on August 19, 2012 4:44 PM:

    Read Buchanan speech Linkmeister, thanks for link. So yep, they 've been bigots for decades, Buchanan's last paragraph in that speech about the "mobs" rioting in Los Angeles sums up Patrick J. Buchanan. Was never so happy as the day they finally ditched him from MSNBC. He could never cover up his absolute bigotry towards African-Americans.

    You're right Gulag, the GOP will try to cover up their whiteness with well paid brown spokespeople.

  • emjayay on August 19, 2012 6:34 PM:

    I also remember an extremely disturbing speech by Mrs. Dan Quayle, although when I searched for it at the time I couldn't find the text of video of it.

    So obviously for many decades, since primaries instead of I guess smoke filled rooms proposing candidates for President, plus TV, political conventions have been opportunities to market the already chosen candidates and excite the base and all that. And I suppose all the thousands of local political party people get to get on a plane and stay in a hotel and do convention stuff.

  • emjayay on August 19, 2012 7:20 PM:

    Marilyn Quayles speech: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/31358-1

    Start at 4:40 to skip the preliminary stuff.

    Note her rather extreme resemblance to Lily Tomlin's "Tasteful Lady." Pearls, a flip (!), bad lady suit (in patriotic colors).

    It's an earlier upper class version of the self-congradulatory, divisive, smug and demeaning to everyone else but low class more recent SnowBunny stuff. We hate hippies, we're the real mothers, fuck them, etc.

  • gkoutnik on August 19, 2012 7:28 PM:

    The one I'm going to - in Charlotte next month - certainly isn't funded by taxpayers (unless you take into account that the delegates - who pay their own way - are taxpayers). I'm not sure there's any part of the convention that is publicly funded. It's costing me an arm and a leg, but I had the chance to vote for Obama along with my state delegation, to be in the room when great speeches were made, to be at the acceptance speech, to see what it was all about - and I didn't hesitate.

  • Anonymous on August 19, 2012 11:58 PM:

    conventions can be funded by corporate sponsors and donators as much or more than taxes, though. just fact checking.

  • emjayay on August 20, 2012 12:53 AM:

    Whoa, did I say that? Apparently I did.....well, I had just rewatched the speech for the first time since it was originally seared in my memory.

  • jpeckjr on August 20, 2012 1:35 AM:

    I dispute the statement Ben made that "all this" is funded by the taxpayers. The conventions themselves are funded by the party and the delegates attending. Party funds come from a wide variety of sources, including corporate donations. Related events, such as receptions, are paid for by sponsors or attendees.

    Taxpayers -- public funds -- do not pay for political party conventions.

    That said, the host city does incur some expenses for hosting the event, some of which may be reimbursed by the party, some which are not.

  • smitty werbenmanjensen on August 20, 2012 8:25 AM:

    It was my experience (Chicago '96, Philadelphia '00) that a political convention was simply a decamping of DC establishment to a new playground for five days. Nothing more or less.

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  • Dr. C on August 20, 2012 7:30 PM:

    As an academic dentist I take exception to the offhand comment "dentists and comic book fans have conventions". In what world do you equate a political party pep rally to continuing education for health care professionals with doctorates, or even more insanely, adults who have not outgrown comic books?!?!?! You should really issue an apology to those of us who have spent many years attaining our professional goals who meet to learn new science and techniques to better serve our patients!