Prefab Conventions

Most Americans didn't bother to watch either the Democratic or Republican Party convention, and for one simple reason: Why spend four nights watching what could have been done in one?

Both parties remain disconnected with Americans by keeping this vestigial political ritual in its 19th-century form. They've sapped most of the tension out of them over the past 50 years by introducing primaries and preselecting the vice presidential candidates. The old floor battles are gone, and so is most of the tension and meaning.

And since TV journalists still treat this quadrennial event as serious political fare, the parties play along to get the free airtime and a poll bump for their nominees. The several thousand party delegates act like stage props for the cameras, cheering and waving on cue. They're not there to make a choice about a candidate or debate the platform.

Viewers find too many of the speeches insincere, pandering, or

sugarcoated, lacking in detail about issues that affect them.

So why keep these four-day extravaganzas, or even convert them into a one-day event?

They do serve a purpose as a pep rally to energize the party faithful to work hard for the election. And they allow the parties to present a TV-perfect biography of the candidate, while showing he can at least unify and run a party and deliver a convincing speech on his values and positions.

And outside the convention hall, away from the balloons, placards, and TV cameras, political deals are being struck and big-money checks are changing hands at lavish receptions. Major donors are invited to the festivities for a shakedown and, too often, a promise to do a governmental favor. They get much better treatment (sky boxes, fancy food) than the delegates.

For Democrats, especially, this fundraising among the rich and powerful is in stark contrast to their convention rhetoric about helping the disadvantaged.

So, even though a presidential candidate should probably square with the people and say these conventions have no clothes, the show must go on. They are a fun (and often funny) summer interlude for the parties and the media between the spring primaries and the fall debates.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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