Political conventions used to be places where decisions were made and delegates truly participated. Now, they are just a series of scripted speeches covered by the media as though they are breaking news stories. Bob reflects on the last two weeks of this modern convention style.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The 46th Quadrennial National Convention of the Democratic Party will now come to order!
BOB GARFIELD: This week thousands of political partisans descended upon Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic Convention, an event such as this country had not witnessed since – last week, when thousands of partisans descended upon Tampa for the Republican Convention. But whereas the GOP confab was characterized by speech after speech, from the likes of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the hallmark of the Democrats’ nominating celebration was speeches by Bill Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband, Barack.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m the president.
BOB GARFIELD: He said other stuff too, which we knew he would because the media were there in force to listen to the speeches, to speculate about them beforehand, and to analyze them afterwards.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: We will have Vice President Biden’s speech and then President Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, along with all the reaction and analysis you’ve come to expect here on Fox News Channel.
MAN: The crowd is fired up and the speakers are ready to go, the marquee speaker tonight, former President Bill Clinton.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Bill Clinton will step to the stage to do something that no former President has ever done.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The first lady of the United States not hitting a home run but a, probably a grand slam.
BOB GARFIELD: NBC’s Tom Brokaw compared the modern political convention to an infomercial: by which he meant a thoroughly staged long form ad. But there is one major difference: the makers of exercise equipment and get-rich-quick schemes have to pay to get their ads on TV. In Tampa and Charlotte, the networks and cable channels donated their time, and then pretended there were news events taking place, as did the rest of the press.
Once upon a time, conventions did produce real news. Party platforms were hammered out that would establish the themes and policy commitments, not just in the presidential race but across the board. Now, such platforms are strictly pro forma, a vestige of the days when candidates didn’t call their own shots. Speaker of the House John Boehner said last week he hasn’t even read the Republican platform, and no less perfunctory are the nominations themselves.
LT. GOV. KIM REYNOLDS: Ladies and gentlemen, let us commence the call of the roll of the states.
WOMAN: Alabama’s 50 delegates unanimously cast our votes for the next President of the United States, Mitt Romney.
BOB GARFIELD: Until the rules were changed to establish the primacy of state primaries, the presidential ticket was determined in smoke-filled back rooms and dramatic floor votes, such as in 1940 when Republican frontrunners Robert Taft and Thomas Dewey were undone by the darkest of dark horses.
MAN: Today, I want to place in nomination Wendell Lewis Willkie.
ANNOUNCER: Coming from nowhere, Wendell L. Willkie rose to challenge the frontrunners of his own party.
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BOB GARFIELD: But there hasn’t been a contested convention for decades. Everything is now preordained, and it takes a three-headed goat or an unhinged movie star to awaken the somnambulant media.
[GOP CONVENTION CLIP]:
CLINT EASTWOOD: I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here, and he’s – I, I just was gonna ask him a couple of questions.
BOB GARFIELD: So complacent was the press that this week it mainly sat on its hands when an actual news event broke out, live before their eyes.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA/DNC CHAIRMAN: All those delegates in favor say aye.
CHORUS OF DELEGATES: Aye.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: All those delegates opposed say, “no.”
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative. The motion is adopted…
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BOB GARFIELD: That was a change in the Democratic Party platform being voted in by a supposed two-thirds voice vote, even though the “no’s” were clearly equal to the “ayes.” Washington Post blogger Eric Wimple observed, “The episode was reported as a mere footnote to the day’s scripted speeches.” Maybe that’s because the platform issues were themselves toothless political posturing. The support for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, for instance, echoes the GOP’s position. But it’s a negotiating point in the peace process and will never be pushed by any elected president. Or maybe the reporters played it down because they consulted the day’s scheduled events –
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