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27 July 2004

Why are conventions such a boring affair?

Here’s what’s going on (with some help from my friends (only one has a web presence) who study the development of the American political system.

Lots of the bloggers here have noted that the DNC is pretty
boring.  It is.  Really.  Right now, a variety of
candidates for congress and such all over the country are speaking and
telling us why they should be elected.  And we’re getting a
retrospective (necrology, actually) of Democrats who have died since
the last convention — all to the “Forrest Gump Suite.”  People
are bored because “nothing happens here.”

But the boredom results almost directly from the attempt of both
parties to infuse their processes with more democracy.  As one of
my colleague-friends put it, “The Democratic National Committee changed
its nominating rules after 1968 such that a majority of the delegates
to the convention had to be chosen by ‘the people’ — that is, through
primaries or caucuses. In response, most of Democratic-controlled
states changed their election laws to be in compliance with the DNC,
and so both the Republicans (because they were forced to, not because
they wanted to) and the Democrats chose their candidates through
primaries and caucuses.”

The Democrats have what are called “super-delegates”, who are
essentially party hacks, electeds, and so forth, who make up about a
sixth or a fifth of the votes needed to get the nomination.  They
tend to commit their votes early on in the process, so that Al Gore,
for example, had about one third of the votes needed for the nomination
before the primaries even started.

So democracy may not have killed the convention as some sort of
meaningful political event, but it was certainly one of the primary

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2 Responses to “Why are conventions such a boring affair?”

  1. B.K. DeLong Says:

    I keep popping around from blog to blog posting on this concept of “boredom”. Yes, all these canned, party-line speeches can be boring – though I have really enjoyed Gore & the Clintons. And Obama….wow.

    But the real story comes from the delegates, the Democrats behind-the-scenes who are willing to be candid, the “party celebrities”, the protestors and even the locals. Not what can be easily gleaned from watching CSpan.

    They just have to be found, and time taken with them. 😉

  2. Nate Says:

    That may be, B.K. But here’s the problem. Only about 20,000 of us out
    of about 280 million can have that experience. I do plan to get some
    face time with delegates tomorrow, but I also think we should be aware
    that our better desires have unintended consequences.  Just like
    in the initiative process that many states (including my home,
    California).  Originally intended as a tool to remove special
    interests from the legislative process, they quickly became the captive
    of the special interests.  (In California, it happened within one year of the initiative’s 1911 inception.)Trying
    to bring more democracy into a political process may be a good thing.
    But a significant consequence of that move has been to eliminate the
    original purpose of the conventions (which everyone spends a lot of
    time lamenting here), which was to select a candidate for the
    presidency. Democracy made the conventions essentially unnecessary.