THE WELLESLEY NEWS STAFF EDITORIAL
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 10:09
The Republican and Democratic National Conventions have taken over the media in the last few weeks. It is not as if viewers or journalists expected a surprise, dark horse candidate emerging at the last minute or a sudden twist in the heated election plot. And yet, the media obsession over the conventions ad nauseum.
The conventions are a grand-standing platform where the party picture comes to life and the pre-election emotions are riled from a fervor into a homestretch inferno. The enormous price tag passed to the taxpayers for the conventions, combined with this lack of purpose, makes the conventions sound less than sustainable.
Since everything about the candidates, the platform and the process seem to be set in stone by the time of the conventions, what purpose are these massive, expensive press events really serving?
Originally, the Republican and Democratic conventions really were the American public’s introduction to each parties’ candidate, serving a specific and direct purpose. This is no longer the case. Officially, conventions are still the point in the electoral process when the super delegates submit their votes to confirm their candidates.
Today, the public weighs and balances possible candidates long before the conventions. Throughout the primaries, debates serve to exhibit each candidates’ stance, culminating in the formalization of their political platforms. Taken objectively, then, the conventions as a whole do not serve any original or concrete purpose anymore.
What they do is spend a huge quantity of taxpayer money, specifically about 36 million dollars on the cost of the events, or about 18 million per convention. Congress additionally sets aside an even larger sum—technically only in reserve—for security at each convention.
Taken together, both party conventions pass a receipt for 136 million dollars to taxpayers. Especially in light of this country’s debt crisis, this massive drain on funds seems excessive for events that do not serve a distinctive, tangible role in the election.
Admittedly, the conventions are a historical landmark on the road to the election. They build up loyal voters’ momentum, stir up activists and reinvigorate the parties’ support bases.
However, in the already-heated atmosphere of media-fueled fires, both campaigners and voters are already at each others’ throats consistently over television and Internet outlets. The campaigns are by no means suffering from a lack of visibility. This visibility itself carries a massive cost to sustain it, but it is a price that comes from the candidates rather than the taxpayers.
The vastly increased publicity during the conventions, though, presents a few unique features in the campaign process. The huge publicity of the conventions gives other members of the campaign and the party highly visible roles and a chance to air their opinions in a venue where their views will be noted. Bill Clinton and Clint Eastwood, though their speeches were met with markedly different levels of success, were both given the platform to promote and expand their message. Michelle Obama and Ann Romney both had central—if brief—roles in which their voices received similar respect and note as their husbands.
But none of these people are running for president. While their views and voices may be helpful in gaining a complete image of their party and the platform, their points can be as strange and irrelevant as an old man talking to an empty chair. Michelle Obama is a prominent figure in her husband’s campaign already, beyond the limits of the convention, and does not need the super-sized podium to make herself heard.
The conventions do not seem to have a reason to cling to life besides allowing the media to magnify the messages of those few days and those few additional party members. Those messages can be broadcast, digested and dissected at any time in the campaign, using the campaigns’ own money instead of taxes.
Why can’t these elaborations on platforms, policies and promises find a stage at some other point on the campaign trail? The media certainly has its ears open and its cameras waiting. A candidate making a highly publicized speech in a swing state could effectively communicate the same message as a convention announcement. Viewers may even become accustomed to following the regular campaign with more attentions.
That being said, while the conventions are a costly and not self-evidently useful aspect of the election process, they also bring each party’s supporters together. The conventions amplify and clarify the two parties as entities. The most devoted supporters are on site, the biggest speeches are delivered, the personalities are all in one place at one time.
Think about the Olympics: each sport could be—and is—competed on a global level outside of the Games, but the Olympics as an institution still survive because of the ideas, traditions and popularity that go along with the event, including the Games’ show of unity.
Similarly, the conventions thrive on their history and their sense of ceremony, as well as the explosive enthusiasm of their attendees and television audiences. This show of solidarity and ceremony, though, is more of an abstract benefit and not easy to weigh against, say, a 136 million dollar price tag.
Still, though their price and their gimmicks may fall under scrutiny, the conventions are far from being eliminated from the election season schedule. They are just what their name implies: conventional traditions that are practiced because they had been practiced in the past.