OTHER VOICES

Conventions still valuable, but don’t make taxpayers foot the bill

Posted Sept. 03, 2012, at 9:40 p.m.

With the Republican National Convention in the rear-view mirror and the Democratic National Convention in full swing, its a good time to ponder the value of the made-for-TV events.

Cynics complain there is no suspense, that the caucus-and-primary system has supplanted the deal-making and smoke-filled rooms of past decades.

The speeches are at best predictable, at worst larded with unchallenged misrepresentations of the truth.

Yet, Molly Ball, writing in The Atlantic last week, made four good points about the value of national nominating conventions. Here’s an amalgam of her observations and a few of our own.

First, the conventions are an important reward for the hardcore political partisans, the unheralded, unpaid foot soldiers the parties rely on to organize grassroots efforts back in their states.

Big corporations stage national conventions for similar reasons: to pump up the sales force to meet the firm’s goals. In this case, they’re selling a president to the American people.

Second, the conventions provide the only chance for the nominees and the parties to outline their vision — and critique their rival — before millions of people without contradiction or interruption.

We live in a soundbite society where candidates often have trouble getting more than snippets of information through media filters. This is their one big chance to go directly to the American people.

Third, the conventions are an opportunity to introduce a national audience to up-and-coming stars. Barack Obama’s 2004 convention speech “catapulted him to national political stardom,” says Bell.

Marco Rubio is said to be the next big thing in the Republican Party and he received a convention plum, the opportunity to introduce the party’s candidate in prime time.

Finally, the conventions allow the parties to hash out their official positions, their platforms.

While these are oft-ignored by the candidate, they send important signals to voters. This year, Democrats for the first time ever included a plank supporting gay marriage. The parties have diametrically opposed planks on abortion.

While conventions still have value, the time has come to yank the taxpayer subsidy given to the parties for their conventions, about $18 million each.

With our political system awash in money, and more and more voters not affiliating with either Republicans or Democrats, the parties should fend for themselves

The national nominating conventions are clearly symbolic events, but we should not underestimate the importance of symbols in political discourse.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Sept 2)

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