Are political conventions obsolete?
Political conventions in the United States have been a political culture that has been exercised both at a grass-root and federal level for a long time. As a stable democracy, the United States' political terrain is competitive. This necessitates the formulation of competitive platforms that leaves no leeway for counter-partisan criticism. Political conventions have been used to demonstrate that each party has a clear framework of the policy windows that they intend to formulate if elected to office. The just concluded Democratic and Republican national conventions was a clear indication that each party is geared to persuade and convince the public that their policy approach is the right. The process of persuasion in political conventions allows policy entrepreneurs to bring some of their ideas on the table. For instance, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Congress woman Shelley Berkeley from the State of Nevada used the policy opportunity to question why the Democratic party platform did not have a pro-Israel stance articulated. Her Pro-Israel agenda was officially incorporated into the Democratic Party platform and was articulated by President Obama during his speech. Therefore, this paper argues that political conventions are not obsolete because they create an opportunity for policy entrepreneurs to articulate their ideas in party manifestos, and also provides an opportunity for the candidates to convince the general public that the policies that they intend to adopt is the right way to go.
What was the original purpose of political conventions?
First, it is important to look at the original purpose of political conventions. One thing that is worth noting is that political convention is aired on national television to all states of the United States at the same time. The original intention for political convention was to help the general public to understand candidates both at a personal level and at a career level. In the political terrain key things like family values and the respect for principles is one thing that is highly valued by the electorate. The articulation of these values during political conventions helps the public to gauge candidates at a micro-level and use that to decide whether these candidates can be in a position to reciprocate these values at a macro-level. Political convention was also originally intended to be a special occasion within the party when candidates accepted their party nominations to be able to run for office (Panagopoulos 39). This was intended to market a candidate to the electorate by passing a message that a particular candidate has party endorsement in run for office. Despite the original purpose of political conventions being an official way for candidates to accept their party nominations, this purpose has over time been obsolete. This is because candidates have converted political conventions to events in which they campaign for their parties and pose criticism to their opponents.
How has that changed over time?
For example, looking at the just concluded Democratic and Republican National Conventions, it was crystal clear that the acceptance of party nominations by President Obama and Governor Romney was the not the integral purpose for the conventions. These conventions turned to be campaign ground where each candidate used the opportunity to criticize their opponents about the things that they have not done and how they have a better understanding of the needs of the electorate. Looking form their speeches, their acceptance of their nominations was just slightly mentioned at the onset of their speeches but once they progressed they deviated from the purpose of the convention into talking about policies and how each side of the political divide had failed. This was not the original intention of political conventions but this does not mean that these two candidates were wrong in their approach for these conventions. One thing that is worthy understanding is the fact that the American political culture has changed. Before World War I, the general public was not concerned about happened outside the United States, the US maintained an isolationist approach basing its stance on the idea of American exceptionalism. However, with the start of the World war and the long period of hegemonic struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold war, the United States' electorate is more concerned about what happens outside the United States. In addition, it is also important to note that the notion of security has changed over the years. In the traditional setting, the major source of state insecurity was other states but in modern times individuals and transnational organization has become a source of state insecurity. This is manifested in terrorist attacks on the United States such as the case of 9/11. This means that unlike the traditional setting where the electorate expected candidates to only focus on domestic issues like the economy and the strengthening of social values, candidates are expected to have a better understanding of foreign policy. This means that the scope of responsibility and accountability yield by the electorate to candidates through the social contract requires candidates to create platforms that are formidable and credible. This is the reason why presidential candidates in the just concluded Democratic and Republican Convention used the opportunity to assure the electorate that they understand the problems surrounding the United States both at a domestic and international level. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to say that the American political terrain has over the years witnessed a change from just focusing on domestic politics to a culture of intermestic politics that
embraces both US domestic politics and foreign policy. This has caused the issues discussed in political conventions not only inclined to domestic partisan politics but also towards the articulation of the key strategies required towards creating a formidable foreign policy framework.
What are the reasons that the parties spend over $20 million on these mega events?
Political conventions require lots of resources in their preparation and hosting. It is estimated that both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions used over $20million each. Using this amount of money in these conventions might be viewed by many as a mistake because this amount of money would be used to jump starts some of the sectors of the economy that are experiencing fiscal deadlock. However, it is worth noting that political convention marks an official start of series of elections. It is through these conventions that some candidates running for various seats either in Congress or the Senate get to acquire public attention. This means that in terms of marketing candidates to the general public, political convention play a key role. In addition is worth noting that it is through political conventions that the general public is able to tell the composition of particular parties in terms of race, age, and gender. For instance, it was clear from the just concluded Democratic and Republican Convention that both President Obama and Governor Romney tried to reach out to women voters. This was evident to the ways in which they talked about the things that they have done for women in their past careers as well as acknowledging the work that women do in society. They crowned their efforts to reach out to women by making sure that their wives both Michele Obama and Anne Romney was given the opportunity to talk to the delegates in the convention so as to demonstrate that their parties valued women and would work towards makings sure that women needs in society was met. This means that using large amounts of money to hold these events is worthwhile because it benefits both the parties as a whole and markets the candidates to the electorate.
Therefore, it is worthy to conclude that political conventions are not obsolete. This is because political conventions allow policy entrepreneurs to be able to champion for the inclusion of some of the issues facing the electorate into party manifestos therefore allowing party politics to be more competitive. In addition, it is through political conventions that political candidates are able to explain to the public about their policy approach on both domestic issues and foreign policy. Political conventions also offers candidates an opportunity to reach out to some segments of the society like the minority and women who have in a long time not been actively involved in US politics. Though the original purpose of political conventions was the acceptance of party nominations by candidates, the changing times have necessitated candidates to use political conventions to talk about issues of foreign policy especially matters concerning security. Exorbitant spending that characterizes political conventions is worthwhile because these conventions market both political parties and candidates to the electorate in terms of their viability for political office.
Panagopoulos, Costas. Rewiring Politics: Presidential Nominating Conventions in
the media age. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 2007. Print.