Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Conventions Are Coming!

The American people are about to be subjected to another round of partisan pandering this fall with the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. As with most of our political discourse today, the two-party system has taken something that was once a meaningful chance to further our national dialog and reduced it to a distraction. When the conventions actually meant something, weren't those the good old days? Not really. By the time the conventions meant something, the two parties were joining hands around the neck of the people and starting the process of choking the political vitality out of this country. The way that they conduct conventions today is simply an indicator of the ensuing decline.

Originally, conventions would bring the parties together to nominate their presidential candidates through various delegate mechanisms. In the 1800s, this was an improvement over secret deals in the halls of Congress that had previously determined the candidates. In the further democratization of this process, we now have primaries in a way that ensures that candidates are determined long before
the conventions, which have become glorified acceptance speeches. Despite being completely unnecessary and a horrendous waste of tax dollars, these vestigial political limbs are still being used to beat this country to death.

While the delegates of past conventions sometimes discussed candidates in a way that served to make the process a referendum in itself, they also used to have meaningful debates about party platforms. Today, the mantra is unity, and the big speeches are scheduled for prime-time. These are going to be slick affairs and there will be no room for substantive debate.

Although only one of many pertinent issues, I have to mention the war here to make some critical points. Most of the country is already against the war and we made that clear in the 2006 elections, which were largely referendums on the war. The Democrats were eager to disappoint, and Pelosi has become a shill for the administration. Obama has been positioning himself as a pro-war candidate, advocating a draw-down (not a withdrawal – look at his numbers!) in Iraq, a large long-term presence, increased reliance on contractors, a surge in Afghanistan, and possible strikes against Iran and now Russia. I actually have more faith in McCain (malleable a maverick as he is) to take charge strategically of the Global War of Terror and get us out of Iraq by the end of his first term as he said he hoped to in a recent speech.

Of course neither Republicans or Democrats are willing to discuss a principled philosophy of foreign policy the way that Nader, McKinney, and Barr are clamoring to. But who would be listening? We have made it clear that we would rather be spoon-fed sound-bites than have an intelligent discussion. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... it expects what never was and never will be.” The American founders by and large disdained and distrusted political parties and would be shocked at how difficult it has become for a third party or independent candidate to just get on the ballot.

The sham media events that conventions have become are indicators of not only how low we have sunk politically, but how we are allowing ourselves to be easy targets for pandering. These events will get widespread media coverage and millions of Americans will be watching. At least the ones who still care about being relatively informed voters. Part of the decline of our culture is because of widespread insecurity and disempowerment. This increases people's psychological need to feel like they belong to a group and derive an identity from it. “I'm a Democrat because that hot girl down the street is a Democrat.” “I'm a Republican because the party is grand. And old.”

Be that as it may still be prevalent, more and more of us are growing past this need to indulge our ignorance and insecurities. We are setting new records for independent and third party voter registrations. The parties are losing their grip. There will be large numbers of principled, passionate, politically aware people in Denver and Minneapolis, but they won't be inside the conventions. In Denver, they will be protesting outside and holding a four day festival at a nearby park. In Minneapolis, they will be marching in the street, but they will also be holding a “counter-convention.” Ron Paul, having been (predictably) denied a speaking spot at the RNC, will headline the “Rally For The Republic,” which will be a celebration of the Freedom Movement and a launch party for Ron Paul's “Campaign For Liberty.”

The conventions may have some utility yet this year: they can show the differences between the goals of the two-party system and the people who tolerate it. As large as the spectacles outside promise to be this time, (“Recreate '68” is a slogan for DNC protesters who have said they will make 1968 “look like a small get together”) the media will be slobbering over the “real news” coming out of the conventions. I have a couple of predictions for what we're going to be presented with as news: Obama will accept the Democratic nomination, John McCain will accept the Republican nomination, the protesters will be ridiculed, the American people will go back to sleep when it's over, and continue to fool themselves into believing that real change can come out of the two-party system.