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Convention(al) Wisdom

Why do we still have political conventions?  There is a legal requirement that they actually sit down and have the formal vote on who their nominee will be, but that does not take days of speechifying and pageantry.  If another political party like the Greens or Libertarians tried to get their conventions on prime-time teevee night after night they’d be laughed at.  So why do the two parties get so much unfiltered airtime?

Because people watch it.

About 40M Americans watched Obama’s acceptance speech in 2008, and nearly 2/3 of all Americans watch at least some of the conventions.  That’s about the same as the Olympics, generally speaking.  People actually want to hear the candidates speak without filters, and they want the party to tell the world what it stands for.

The last Republican convention was in my neighborhood, and frankly I’d rather forget it if I can. It was an unpleasant experience, and not because Republicans came to town.  I would have happily welcomed actual people of any belief, to be honest, if they sat down and had a friendly chat over beer.  What we had was an armed compound with extras bused in from somewhere else as protesters tried to disrupt it. Our little town was nothing more than a backdrop, a prop – the stage upon which the world was introduced to Sarah Palin.

That’s what I love about St Paul – it has a strong sense of karma.  Git-back is a muthuh.

Tampa has its turn now, and it looks as though they were better set up for this kind of event in the first place.  Excepting the action of hurricane Isaac, who will probably hit New Orleans just hard enough to make everyone wonder why we rebuild below sea level, this can go off with just about the right amount of protester action to make it look important without actually getting in the way of the production for teevee.  That’s what the organizers really want.

It’s also what American voters want, more or less.  Each party gets its turn to make its case and then they decide.  Think of it like a trial where we all don’t have jury duty for more than a few minutes in November.  The process is more than just traditional, it is how we do just about everything.

The stakes this year include about 29 percent of all voters.  These are the people who are not strongly in support of either candidate and generally unenthusiastic about the entire election.  That could mean that these conventions are even more important than usual, at least if one side is capable of making its case much better than the other.  The first thing to close is the enthusiasm gap – give people a reason to actually show up to vote in the first place.

Most of that job will fall on Romney simply because he is the challenger.  It’s tough to knock off a sitting President that we have seen looking presidential and simply gotten used to.  It’s something like a marriage – you don’t leave it casually.   Obama is the guy and he’s OK and all that … who is this Romney person?   Very few re-elections have not been won by the incumbent – the only loser in the last 140 years was George HW Bush, knocked off by the dynamic and charming Bill Clinton.  But what really did Bush in was a failing economy and perhaps the slow response to hurricane Andrew.

Is there enough in place to knock off Obama?  If you look at the economy, that’s a maybe.  There has been job growth, but it’s terribly weak and looks like it is going nowhere.  Confidence is at a terrible low, and from what anyone can see will likely be through the entire next term (at least as predicted by K-Waves).  If you look at the challenger, we don’t have a young, charming candidate with a new agenda as we did in 1992.   Barring an outlier event, things look good for Obama this year – but we have outlier events all the time these days.

Where is that hurricane, anyways?

Perhaps the most important speeches will be between the conventions, when Ben Bernanke speaks to the Jackson Hole Conference at 9AM EDT on Friday, 31 August and then European Central Bank (ECB) Chair Mario Draghi speaks on Saturday.  This is when we might learn just how likely the unlikely has become.

In the meantime, we have some pageantry a speeches that an awful lot of people will in fact be watching.  If the Romney team plays it the way that they’ve played the campaign so far we can expect caution and nothing too outrageous.  That is, unless the rest of the party gets a bit antsy from sitting there too long as nothing but a backdrop.

As always, make popcorn.

15 thoughts on “Convention(al) Wisdom

  1. I certainly watch the conventions. They tell you a lot about what the party stands for. Its not all the speeches its in what they put up there in the first place. Democrats always have a parade of ‘diversity’ that gets strange quick and the Republicans have the preachers and people very sure of themselves. What they say is less important than the staging sometimes.

  2. You’ve mentioned the enthusiasm gap a lot and I guess I fall into it. This is a hard election to be excited about. But like you said before the assault on womens’ rights is becoming very important and that will be enough to get me out to vote no matter what. I hate to vote on a single issue but this is a very big one.

    • I think there is a lot to be made with this, especially given the polling. If women have a 15 point gap for Obama, the overall being close means there is a more than 15 point gap for Romney among men. That’s probably what will decide the election, given that they are probably not as set in their vote than women are at this point (given all the small blow-ups we’ve had). I will keep reading the tea leaves in polls to see what I can discern.

  3. “the stage upon which the world was introduced to Sarah Palin. That’s what I love about St Paul – it has a strong sense of karma.”
    So close to being gold! I love this but it’s not one line like usual!

  4. I think you’re wrong about re-election. Both Johnson and Truman gave up before their primaries, that has to count. And I’m sure there are more.

    • You have a point. Let’s just say that among re-elections that got this far the President has won them all except GHW Bush, Carter, Hoover, and Taft in the last Century. I forgot a lot there, didn’t I? But recently it’s been a walk for everyone (except Johnson, the exception!) which includes GW Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, FDR, and Coolidge. So it’s still pretty likely.

  5. Assault on women’s rights?

    The Humphrey Institute’s Center on Women and Public Policy has good information of women’s issues. The director is Debra Fitzpatrick. I expect the Barataria community to commit no sins of omissionin in terms of providing relevant information that some are aware of, but don’t mention on this blog.

  6. In politics everything is fair game. Who anyone associates with and what they believe and how they act is part of the picture. That’s how we determine authenticity. Everything has distributional and efficiency aspects. For example if you take a cruise down to St. Louis or New Orleans, and the staff is largely African American, in a democratic capitalist nation, what did that say about us. Is that fair?

    Politics is a contact sport. For example you chose to manage Dave Thune’s re-election campaign. What about his African American opponents. What does Dave Thune think about Glass Steagall? He a politician–is he leading? Or has he been quiet on the big issues discussed in Barataria. How about Governor Dayton, son of privilege and money. Do you have anything critical to say about him.

    Let me bring up another issue. The Taliban cut off the heads of 17 people recently. Some were women. Some say: US out of Afghanistan. I stand up for those, their heads are gone. The Taliban deserves to be defeated; the US should stay and fight for forward thinking people. Someone like Senator John McCain would not want to leave Afghanistan.

    • OK, I’ll bite. You’ve been doing a lot of homework. It’s creepy, but I’ll go with it.
      I have a lot of stories relating to African Americans and how they have been able to get along in our nation. If you read back far enough, you’ll see that I’ve written some of them here. I haves never thought our nation is perfect, just awfully good.
      As for Dave, we live in a district that does not have a significant African American population. Dave’s opponents have typically been Anglo, which given the Latino population of our district is a bit strange.
      I was never a big Dayton fan – was a Keliher backer, if you’d read about that. Dayton is doing OK, but he has good people working for him. So did Ventura and Carlson (and even Pawlenty, for the most part). The state seems to work pretty well, all in all.
      As for being the grand force for the liberation of all people in the world, I have very mixed feelings. When I was young I thought that was our role in the world – to extend our blessings to all people. As I’ve gotten older I see that this is very difficult and that conditions have to be right. I would strongly support intervention in Syria right now, for example. What’s our role in Afghanistan? Without being there, I can’t say for sure. But in principle we should indeed be doing something, yes. It’s a matter of what would genuinely be of benefit to the people and not just an extension of a war that prolongs their suffering.

  7. One of the reasons I make things personal is to challenge you, Erik. There are tidbits on Barataria that you write that come off to me as incredulous. For example, you said you don’t know anyone in Wisconsin. Some of the friends and relatives of someone close to you lived in Paul Ryan’s district.
    Someone close to you is from Kenosha Wisconsin. Paul Ryan could be president someday. You used to visit Wisconsin on some holidays. It’s hard for me to believe that you don’t have stories or feelings or observations on the people you met in Wisconsin.

    Your former significant other may not want to be written about in Barataria, but, like it or not, you are a publc person. We can not get away from our past. So your former wife is part of Barataria in an indirect way. What do I mean indirect? For example she used to work for State Senator Greg Dahl. And Greg Dahl was the Minnesota coordinator for Senator Paul Simon’s presidential campaign. . I assume you met Greg Dahl given that she worked for him until the early 1990s. What kind of leader was Greg Dahl. Was he into Paul Wellstone’s views? I assume some of these things influenced you. Whether you want to write about these is up to you. But some of these things are in the public record and they relate to your background and credibility. What kind of credibility? Well… your father for example. If his profession is professor of chemical engineered, then I know you come from a privilege background, not in terms of money, but in terms of sheer brainpower. Like it or not elites and experts influence the world and we need to acknowledge them. Barataria acknowledges experts, but it also is, at times, contemptuous of them.

    • Honestly, though I know a fair number of people in Wisconsin, I don’t know anyone from or currently living in Janesville. I know that my ex father in law didn’t like Ryan, but it’s been 9 years since I spoke to him – Ryan was a freshman congressman and didn’t come up much back then! I haven’t been to Kenosha in at least 10 years.
      Greg Dahl? Been a long time since I heard that name. He was pretty conservative in many ways, including being pro-life. Yes, I did meet Paul Simon and I also supported him.
      As for being privileged, I agree with your assessment. I recently described a 15 year old me as a “punk kid”. Oh, and you’re off a little – Dad was a Professor of Chemistry.
      Experts are important in this world, but there is a balance. We can’t rely on them to do everything without losing our sense of Democracy. A perfect balance would include a lot more dialogue, where experts have to explain where and why things need to be done – but this rarely happens.
      If you read it carefully, it’s not “experts” that bother me, it’s experts who hide behind jargon and set themselves apart. If I could have one career of my choice, it would be as a writer whose job is to translate things out of jargon and technical talk so that ordinary people can understand them (or, at least, ordinary people with some decent education). I think you can see that my “hobby” of economics includes a lot of this and has gotten me a bit of a following. People do like this – and challenge me when I get stuff wrong.
      My statement on “experts”:

      http://erikhare.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/expert-opinion/

  8. Pingback: The Big Fight | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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