Why Have Conventions?

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 27 2012 @ 1:14pm


I'm afraid the prospect of nine hours of live-blogging propaganda fills me with some dread. But Hanna Rosin defends the spectacle:

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.

Mike Murphy wants to cut down the event:

[T]he candidate’s acceptance speech is a huge deal with a big audience and a powerful impact. Along with the three fall debates, the convention speech is one for the four single most important hours of the entire campaign. So keep the two big TV speeches. But do we really need four days – three if you decide to hold it in the Gulf during hurricane season – to get there? Do we really need the droning and unwatched speech by the guy who lost or the first-ever Laotian-American Republican State Representative or the union howler who is a teleprompter to predictable outrage over the other parties’ entitlement plan? Why not cut it all down to the commercial it is and focus just on the stars?

Jonathan Bernstein argues that the conventions are worth saving simply "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.

(Photo: A woman sits in the bleachers at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, in Tampa, Florida, during last preparations for the opening of the Republican National Convention on August 27, 2012. By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)