Value of the convention
September 1, 2012 Leave a comment
I was interviewed by the local news yesterday on why we even still have conventions and isn’t it crazy that the public subsidizes them (I love WordPress in general, but their minimal support for embedding videos other than youtube really drives me crazy).
I must say, my comments ended up being heavily influenced by reading this post from Seth Masket earlier in the week:
I rather enjoyed Hanna Rosin’s thoughts on this question during last week’s Slate Gabfest:
Look, most Americans pay no attention to politics, and then comes the convention, and then it’s like a pageantry, and that’s as interesting as politics is going to get. I feel it’s slightly bogus when political reporters say things like, “Oh, no policy happens.” Like you were going to write about policy if it did happen? All you do is write about image and message for the entire year and then the convention comes and you complain because it’s only about image and message.
I agree with Rosin: the pageantry matters! This is the part of the election cycle where normal Americans (read: not political junkies) begin to pay attention to the candidates, the parties, and the issues, and the conventions are a big part of how that happens.
Along these lines, conventions serve as an opportunity for a party to present its candidates and its stances to the general public. Those who only learn about the current election from advertisements are getting a somewhat abbreviated and decidedly negative perspective; the conventions are the parties’ chance to define themselves and lay out their arguments for why they should be in charge. We also get to see some of the up-and-coming candidates in a party; the next two weeks will give most Americans their first opportunity to hear from some of the likely 2016 presidential candidates.
And Jonathan Bernstein:
But really, the reason I think that the conventions are worth saving is because both a democracy and its political parties need rituals, and we really don’t have that many left. Indeed, the rise of the parties over the last 30 or 40 years has been accompanied not by renewed and updated rituals but by a political culture that continues to demand we vote the person and not the party and which considers independent voters to be superior to partisans. Against that, the funny hats, the balloon drops, the roll call of the states and the rest of it aren’t much … but at least they’re something. Until someone can come up with good 21st century customs and rituals appropriate to our modern parties, I’m all for hanging on to what we have – and so I’m very glad that the conventions have survived 40 years after their original political function was stripped from them.
Now, I think you could make a good argument that when parties are raising tens of millions of their own for the convention that the public subsidies may be out-dated, but even if no real “news” happens, conventions remain an important part of our democracy.