On the Agenda: Changing role of political conventions and their impact
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As we enter the carnival-like experience of the two political conventions, some of us mourn that what was once a brawl between political factions, causes, regions and over-sized political personalities has deteriorated to a multi-day cable TV infomercial.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Broadcast on what was then all three TV networks, the Republican Convention in 1964 nominated Barry Goldwater with Ronald Reagan keynoting. Goldwater was crushed by Lyndon Johnson, but that convention marked the beginning of the conservative movement as a political force and Reagan’s voice defined the 50-year battle to take over the heart and soul of his political party.
Four years later, the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago televised the ripping apart of the other political party as the Viet Nam War lead to street demonstrations that the subsequent Kerner Report said was a “police riot.” The country was stunned by the violence it saw on TV. In the three way race, the two candidates from the right, Richard Nixon and George Wallace trounced Democrat Hubert Humphery 60-40.
Today, it’s no secret that political conventions are crafted, choreographed and stage managed as showcase spectacles for the candidates and up and comers, such as Barack Obama in 2004 and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie this year.
Demonstrators will be kept as far away as possible.
Controversies are tamped down, and the most ideologically inflammatory rhetoric that routinely surfaced in the primaries has been rubbed, scrubbed and sanitized.
But of course, there is always the possibility of a surprise event or statement that can drive a convention off message. This week’s Republican confab was supposed to be about the economy and Paul Ryan validating Mr. Romney as a fiscal hawk. There will be plenty of that, but Todd Akins and his comment about “legitimate rape” guarantee there will also be plenty of coverage of social issues that unify and motivate the base but worry many swing voters.
Remember, for most Americans, the political conventions are the real beginning of the 2012 presidential election.
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