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Tuesday, 28 August 2012 08:54

The Republican and Democratic Party Conventions Are Just Television Ads

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Will Bunch, who writes a blog "Attytood" for the Philadelphia Daily News trenchantly observes that the national conventions are no longer dynamic political events; they are just for show:

The Republican Party has already imposed a rule that a candidate’s name can’t even be placed in nomination without a majority of delegates in 5 states (Paul has but three). Now, Team Romney wants to move up by one day the roll call of the states – where the candidate actually claims the nomination, a one-time highlight that’s going the way of the manual typewriter – because it’s afraid Paul’s small band of backers will raise a ruckus.

The funny thing is that conventions are where candidates are supposed to show voters there the kind of guy who can stand up to the Iranians or the Chinese or the American enemy du jour. Yet here is Mitt Romney, practically cowering  under a table at the idea of giving the Paulities 10 minutes to talk about the gold standard or their fence to keep Americans from fleeing to Mexico.

But it's not just the GOP that has gone from conventions with everything from floor fights over the nominee to platform battles to scripted made-for-television ads for the party and already pre-chosen nominee.  The Democratic convention of 2008 was hailed by the media for its "flawless" unfolding and theatrical setting.  

Will Bunch believes that this movement toward conventions being less about democracy and more about narrative and visual imaging began with the runaway George McGovern winning the 1972 Democratic nomination.  Both parties, Bunch contends, decided that they were never going to let an "outsider" disrupt the convention "sell" again.

As Bunch writes of the 1972 Democratic Convention in Florida:

“The streets of ’68 are the aisles of ’72!” shouted gleeful reformers, as recounted by author Rick Perlstein in his epic tale of the era’s politics, Nixonland. Battles over the party platform and issues like women’s rights and abortion were waged not behind closed doors but on the podium, where America heard a delegate plead for gay rights for the first time. The cast of characters in Miami Beach included Abbie Hoffman, Shirley MacLaine, Arthur Miller…and George Wallace, all of recorded, in a purple haze, by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson."

But it was the end of an era in more ways than one.  The Democratic Party schism between social progressives and the white working class opened into a canyon, as the Republicans exploited wedge issues.

As far as the conventions themselves, both parties decided that no more "messy surprises" would be allowed.  The quadrennial conclaves would become theater to influence voters, just like a Coca-Cola ad.  The candidates became products and the speeches became either pablum or red meat, depending upon the electoral game plans of either party.

Wistfully, Bunch concludes:

It’s been a long, strange trip in the decades since reporters saw Hunter Thompson peeling out from the driveway of his Miami Beach hotel in his red convertible, a six-pack of beer in the front seat. Democracy was in his rear-view mirror.

Now, democracy is too disruptive and "off message" to get in the way of the Republican and Democratic television shows.