Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Show About Nothing

No, I have not turned TV critic, and decided to blog about Seinfeld.

All that I've written about the history of parties and conventions has led up to this: how does the presidential nominating process work now?

Part of the answer to that is that the conventions don't much matter anymore. I've written about conventions past, when the delegates went on for days, and sometimes weeks, deciding on a presidential nominee. Now it is standard practice to have that decision made before the convention even starts.

Due in large part to the reforms to the delegate-selection process that I wrote about here, rank-and-file party members (and even sometimes independents and opposition party members, depending on the rules in each state) commit their delegates to voting for a certain presidential candidate, via primaries and caucuses.

But the nominations are not official until they have been voted on by the parties' respective national conventions. Some pundits have commented this year that there are a lot of voters in America that don't even know that anymore.

That's probably true. The voting on the presidential nomination, via the convention roll call of the states, starting with "Allllaaabama! ..." used to be the highlight of a convention broadcast.

These days, the presidential nomination, along with the credentials committee report and the platform committee report, are among those things to which the convention gives formal approval, but the television audience is not likely to pay much attention to those items of business.

The parties make every effort to have disputes about any of those agenda items resolved before the convention begins. Credentials, platform, and nominations have all historically involved dramatic confrontations during conventions. Now, the parties avoid them, so as not to disturb the feel-good atmosphere they try to project on TV.

This year, the Democrats resolved, more than two months before their convention, a dispute over their Florida and Michigan delegations, whose states broke party rules by scheduling their primaries too early. And I'm pretty sure that any potential Republican platform battles, a subject I wrote about here, will also be taken care of, well in advance.

One drawback to this trend is that the conventions no longer make for interesting television as much as they used to. The TV networks, who had formerly been proud of their "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of conventions, have now cut back on the airtime allotted to them.

Just about all I watch anymore are the presidential acceptance speeches on the last night of each convention. They are as full of wind as any other political speech, but they give a good summary of the themes that each candidate is taking into the general election campaign. And with the convention scheduling issues of the past out of the way, they are telecast in prime time.

No comments: