Manuel Ozaeta, Consultant
My erudite and patriotic colleague Patrick Skarr penned a blog last week offering his perspective on the reasons modern political conventions matter. He correctly noted that conventions serve as the endpoint of a nominating contest, provide a venue for up and coming political stars, and are simply part of a national conversation. While I agree in his assertion, “conventions are a time of national dialogue on important issues,” I also believe, like most of the political approaches over the last half-century, they have evolved into something unrecognizable from their earliest incarnations.
While the smoke filled room where party elders crowned their selection for nominee is a thing of the past, there are vast differences in style and substance between the conventions of yesterday and the ones of today. In 1964, Republican Governor Rockefeller of New York took to the podium and was was booed while speaking to his fellow Republicans. His conservative brethren believed he was too moderate and ultimately gave the nomination to Barry Goldwater. Today, that type of vocal dissent on the convention floor would not be welcomed, tolerated, or aired.
Democrats have their own convention skeletons. Who could forget the convention four years later in 1968, right here in Chicago, when the world was watching? That convention was the epitome of angry dissent, volatile political activism, and municipal overreach. Many viewers decided on whom they would vote for that November simply from the activities seen and the unpatriotic conduct of those on both sides of the rioting at Grant Park.
Today, the unpredictability of the political convention is gone. From a purely public relations perspective that is a good thing. But for the average American voter, it is not. The upcoming Democratic convention this week will prove to be much like the GOP’s last week, canned, predictable, tightly controlled, and on message. It will simply be one speech after another with few, if any surprises and of course a balloon drop.
My colleague and I are both fascinated by the election year processes. The speeches, the debate on policy ideas and the overall direction of this country are all part of our water cooler discussions, unfortunately, we are in the minority. The audiences for conventions are shrinking because the target electorate is also shrinking. Political conventions and presidential debates have turned into performance venues to attract the small number of vacillating independent voters who only begin to pay attention around Labor Day.
The political convention will continue to evolve because of the dominance of the twenty-four hour news channel and the Internet. Our viewing and reading habits have changed the manner we digest political news and simply the way we vote. There was a time when the major television networks dedicated three hours of prime time to the conventions, today they are only given one hour. It is rumored that political conventions may shrink to only one-day affairs.
As a political junkie and proud American voter, I certainly believe that conventions matter, just not as much as they used to.