Feature

The value of political conventions

Every four years a chorus of critics call for an end to these contrived, “made-for-TV’’ extravaganzas.

Connie CassAssociated Press

Why do Republicans and Democrats still stage political conventions? Every four years, said Connie Cass, a chorus of critics call for an end to these contrived, “made-for-TV’’ extravaganzas, especially since their original purpose—picking party nominees—was long ago moved to the more democratic process of primaries and caucuses. But as boring and predictable as the conventions have become, they are not without value. Four years after the last election, they serve as a “national stocktaking”—a debate on how we’re doing, and a glimpse into the future. It was at the conventions, after all, that we had our first early glimpses of Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton; on that grand stage, we saw Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton “bursting through doors once locked to them.” Each convention serves as a Rorschach test of what’s on our minds: This year, it’s joblessness, gay marriage, religious freedom, the national debt, and women’s rights. Each party’s best speakers have a chance to break through the noise, and “say something in a way that sticks in the national consciousness.” Can’t we spare a few days for that?

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