Patrick Skarr, Accounts Supervisor
Despite months of intensive planning for the Tampa and Charlotte soirees, Mother Nature will serve as the great unknown, adding melodrama to otherwise staid affairs. As we enter convention season, the usual grumbles over the process has returned. Inches of newsprint and numerous pundits have taken to task the millions spent on this cycle’s coronation ceremonies.
This beckons the question, do we need party conventions? Surely the era of a nomination being swung by the dissemination of counterfeit tickets and packing of the hall with allies, a la Lincoln, has passed us by. But the lack of that type of political theater shouldn’t overshadow the important role conventions play in our national dialogue.
First and foremost, conventions are the endpoint of the process by which nominees are selected. If conventions don’t matter, the accumulation of delegates doesn’t matter. The delegate battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last cycle, or the block of Ron Paul delegates in Tampa, prove that delegate strategies matter and in turn, give importance to the purpose and existence of party conventions.
Conventions matter to the political process because they reward the candidates and campaigns with the discipline, message, machine and execution. Additionally, the coveted timeslots provide a training ground for the next generation of leaders and introduce the nation to each party’s rising stars.
In 2004, during another “coronation ceremony” the nation was introduced to a senate candidate named Barack Obama. We know how that turned out. Outside of the immediate party business, conventions provide a peek into the future and promise of the next generation.
The notion that conventions don’t matter because they are devoid of floor intrigue misses the point of having a national convention entirely. The Internet, social media and partisan commentary on the news networks allows each of us to interact and hear from those whose views mirror our own. We can listen to the left or right without ever having to bother with the other side. Or given the abundance of media options, millions of Americans can avoid the legislative and executive branches altogether.
At a time when the federal government spends $1.23 billion a day on interest payments and 23 million Americans can’t find suitable work, setting aside some primetime space is a valid civic exercise.
Conventions are a time of national dialogue on important issues, at least for an hour or so per night. The parties put forth what they feel are their best arguments. They are free to select the best surrogates, candidates and experts to make their case without interruption. Wise elders speak to the youthful. The rank-and-file tell the top brass to do better.
Conventions give cause to our national debates and provide focus in an otherwise convoluted electoral environment. Getting rid of these unique institutions would deprive our system of healthy debate, interaction and reflection.