Can the Conventions

by on July 27th, 2004

“Dance, puppets, dance,” may as well be the message of the Democratic Convention this year. Let’s face it, modern party conventions serve no purpose other than framing an already-anointed nominee in the best light possible.

The highly choreographed dance is no longer a place where real decisions and substantial policies are developed. Instead, the modern convention is little more than a week-long political commercial. Both parties labor under the Madison Avenue mindset, and in the process make the conventions into unwatchable, unbearable infomercials.

Is it any wonder that ratings for conventions are predictably low? An increasingly savvy electorate has no time to be told what to think. Sweeping platitudes and generalizations are increasingly meaningless to a voting populace that has already become invulnerable to most marketing gimmicks. Advertisers have been aware of this trend for years now, so why have the major national parties not caught on?

Other than during the exceptionally rare very-close-primary race, the outcome of national conventions is not only predictable, it’s a foregone conclusion. Once, long ago, conventions were used to hammer out the planks of the party platform. To some degree this is still done today, but in the age of electronic communication the most important details have been decided upon before the delegates even meet. Once, long ago, conventions featured heated debates between the advocates of the various nominees. Today, conventions are a finely tuned media blitz, designed to show the already-chosen candidate’s “best face” while minimizing any friction or disagreement within party ranks.

Yawn. Who cares? If there’s no meat on the bone, why sit down for dinner?

Pundits and seasoned anchormen like to complain about the lack of attention given to conventions. They want more prime-time slots. They want to ensure the continuation of an important part of the democratic process. They apparently want more people falling asleep in front of the television.

If the parties, and party stalwarts in the media, want voters to pay attention, they should give voters something to care about. No one wants to watch a weeklong coronation. Unfortunately, the national parties are too busy avoiding controversy to create anything but a bland, watered down, Shirley-Temple instead of the kicking cocktail that a convention should be.

Luckily, a clever viewer can still scry some truth from the conventions by paying attention, not to the prime time slots, but to the margins. Less favorable time slots are usually given to representatives from the more “cookie” factions of the party, and by listening closely to what is said, voters may actually be able to learn what the parties really stand for.

Damon Dimmick