Today marked the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party’s response to the Republican National Convention, held last week in Tampa, Florida. This, of course, is an American tradition that dates back to the early 19th century. The political convention allowed for the nation’s delegates to hammer our agreements on who would next run for president on behalf of a given party. The process was often contentious, uncertain, and confusing. Today, the nomination process lacks the wheeling and dealing of bygone conventions. Or rather, as a cynic might choose to believe, much of the wheeling and dealing is done long before the convention ever begins. What is left is a political convention that rarely contains upsets. A convention that is scripted down to the minute, spewing out endless pandering easily converted into a cable news sound bite.
There are those who believe this system is archaic, expensive, and outdated. Those that believe the conventions have outlived their purpose, that the conventions are little more than expensive excuses for politicians to celebrate themselves. And to be frank, there is a fair amount of pomp and circumstance to be found at these conventions. But there is another side, another purpose besides stroking the egos of politicians. The conventions are no longer important in deciding a party’s candidate. They do, however, allow the parties to present themselves to the American people, to put their best foot forward and to showcase the best and brightest each party has to offer. It is through these conventions fresh faces are introduced to the American public. Barack Obama first came to prominence this way in 2004. This year it is congressional candidate Mia Love and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro. And while the names change, the message does not; these are tomorrow’s political superstars.
But perhaps even more important than a wide-eyed politician’s five minutes in the spotlight is the opportunity for Americans to discuss what matters to them. This, of course, does not take place anywhere near the convention floor. The conventions are much too scripted to allow that to happen. But walking the streets of Charlotte, I spoke with fervent supporters of Barack Obama. I spoke with those who felt disenchanted with the president. I spoke with those who felt the entire Democratic Party was a joke. I spoke with immigration activists, Occupy Wall Street protestors, and pro-life activists. And all of these people could be found within four blocks of the Charlotte Convention Center. It doesn’t matter which party is celebrating itself inside the convention. Outside, supporters and detractors alike are deciding for themselves who will be the next president. And that’s why we need these political conventions.
Jake Langlois in Charlotte, North Carolina