Friday, August 15, 2008

Potemkin Roll Call

The Washington Times reports that, despite the fact that the nomination of Barack Obama for president by the Democratic Party is a foregone conclusion, their convention will stage a roll call vote, during which the large minority of the delegates who are pledged to Hillary Clinton can cast a vote for her.

Anyone reading my previous posts about the history of party conventions might discern a certain nostalgia on my part for the days when those gatherings were more than just infomercials for a party and its candidates. When I first became aware of conventions, during the 1968 campaign, I quickly discovered that they were the perfect TV entertainment for a precocious political geek like me.

The roll call votes for nominating presidential candidates were a great combination of serious political work, and purely American kitsch: "Mr. Chairman, the great State of Minnesota, the taconite capital of the world, the state that is proud of its great Republican leaders such as Harold Levander, is extremely proud to cast 75 votes for Richard Nixon, and one vote for the next president of the United States, Harold Stassen!" That's not an exact quote, but you get the picture.

Imagine my distress as the ensuing years went by, when all substance was drained out of the national conventions. Eventually, even the announcement of a running mate came to be made in advance of the convention (although that might not be the case this year).

It's difficult for a convention connoisseur to get excited about a symbolic roll call vote, the outcome of which is as uncertain as that of a WWE wrestling match.

Also, my guess is that Obama is not excited about reminding voters, on the eve of the formal start of the general election campaign, of his bitter nomination battle against Clinton. But he's putting his best spin on it by saying that it will "help us celebrate this defining moment in our history and bring the party together in a strong united fashion."

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