The Republican and Democratic National Conventions are just around the corner. The Republican convention comes first, beginning on August 27. The Democratic convention then starts on September 3.
The conventions don’t have the same importance they had decades ago, when it was not uncommon for dark horse candidates to emerge after deadlocked conventions entered the wee hours. As recently as 40 years ago unruly delegates at the Democratic convention delayed the acceptance speech by the party’s presidential candidate, George McGovern, until well after prime time TV viewers had gone to bed. Now, of course, conventions are heavily scripted affairs, with little drama and a heavy emphasis on messaging.
This evolution has caused some to argue that conventions are useless and should be jettisoned. I disagree. There is a liturgical element to conventions that will always have a place in American politics. The welcoming address, the platform debates, the nomination speeches, the keynote address, the acceptance speeches — all are steeped in tradition, and all can tell you something about where the parties are heading and what they want to project. Who have the parties selected to speak, and what are they saying? With the careful planning that goes into modern political conventions, you can be confident that party approves of every carefully tailored word being spoken from the podium.
The parties are just starting to announce who will be speaking at the conventions. We know that the Democratic nominees, President Obama and Vice President Biden, will speak at their convention, and GOP nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will address the Republican gathering. We also know the keynote speakers — and here there is an interesting contrast. The Democratic keynoter will be dashing Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who is a Harvard graduate and has been described as the “Latino Obama.” His Republican counterpart is bluff New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who successfully dealt with his state’s budget problems and promises to tell some “very direct truths” during his address. Can anyone doubt that these two keynote addresses are likely to sound very different themes?
I’m no political junkie, but I think conventions are fascinating. When the gavels go down on August 27 and September 3, I’ll be watching.