Dateline Tampa: Should We Still Have Conventions?
Are political conventions worth holding anymore?
It's hard to avoid pondering that question while walking around the convention hall here in Tampa. Sure, a lot of people are having fun, networking, dating, flogging their books and movies. But does it all still have a point in promoting that funny old concept democracy?
That's not entirely clear. It's been decades since an actual presidential candidate was chosen by either party at a convention. They're more like coronations. The biggest "news" here is some obscure rules fight having to do with delegate selection, but since candidates are almost always chosen way in advance of the convention, it feels a bit moot. Still, I guess that could change at some future date.
Basically, conventions are media events intended to direct attention to the election by a public that was supposed to have been otherwise engaged. But have they? In the swing states they have already been bombarded by television commercials to such a degree that they could be excused for despising politics for the rest of their lives.
Nevertheless, its hard to judge. Nothing has really started here in Tampa. Gaggles of reporters are running around the convention hall, chasing after the likes of Jon Voight and Michele Bachmann, not exactly people scarce to the media under normal circumstances. I'm not going to name names, but if you stand in the "radio row" area long enough, you will notice several big time or semi-big time "celebrities" just standing there waiting to be "recognized." So it goes in the great "vanity fair," but it has little to do, again, with democracy or the intention of conventions.
In many ways, the funniest character to make his appearance here is my hometown mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. For reasons unknown (okay, maybe because he's Hispanic) the L.A. mayor has been appointed the Democratic Party counter-representative here in Tampa. Never mind that Los Angeles is an economic disaster area almost, but thankfully not quite, resembling Detroit. "Hizzoner" actually stood among one of those reporter gaggles, holding forth on his dubious fiscal views. (I actually was in that gaggle and asked Villaraigosa a question about all the empty storefronts in our home city. He gave me a look like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and turned away without answering.)
But back to the question of the relevance of conventions. At least they give the candidates a chance to give speeches for national audiences. Tonight we have Chris Christie, Ann Romney, Nikki Haley, and our own Janine Turner.
I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Ann Romney, because what may perhaps be the greatest calumny of the many Obama-instigated calumnies this year is the so-call Republican "war on women." It shouldn't fall on one person to counter this propagandistic nonsense, especially since there is a line-up of women tonight, but unfortunately Mrs. Romney has been put to a great degree in that position. I have suspicion, however, that she will be up to the task.
So I guess I'm still skirting the question. Are conventions worth it? I'm not ready to answer yet. Ask me again on Friday.
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