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ISSUE 118 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/17/2004

Political conventions can do better: Republican, Democratic rallies have lost original purpose

By Ishanaa Rambachan
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 17, 2004

In his jarring editorial entitled, TVs Most Useless Reality Show, in Broadcasting and Cable Magazine, Howard Rosenberg likened political party conventions to nothing more than spin-orgies ... hardly distinguishable from the rest of TVs lens-tailored, faux-reality madness.

After two weeks of political cheerleading in Boston and New York City, few could argue that this years conventions this year carried more substance than Arnold Schwarzeneggers girlie-men anecdotes and the elevation of Illinois Senate hopeful Barack Obama to the new sex icon for the Democratic Party.

Both the Republican and Democratic national conventions have strayed far from their original purpose to nominate the presidential candidate. Conventions of yesteryear showcased political wrangling between the No. 1 and No. 2 positions. The party platforms were actually debated and decided upon; conventions served as tools to achieve party unity.

And, yes, people were actually surprised by the outcomes. Today, the selected candidates are known far in advance.

The delegates of 2004 declared their votes immediately after state primaries this spring. The platforms of the millennium are hardly distinguishable from each other, as each party strives to achieve mass appeal.

In the past months, both John Kerry and George W. Bush stated and restated their desire to reinvigorate the Medicare and Social Security systems, save public education, boost the US economy and of course, somehow resolve the Iraqi crisis.

Yet, let me ask, which candidate actually progressed past simply shouting the appropriate policy catchphrase?

Which candidate detailed his ideas, summarized necessary legislation or even discussed how likely his lofty plans were to pass through Congress?

There has always been a disconnect between the euphemisms of political conventions and the current realities of the globe.

But, as Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote on Sept. 3, 2004, the gulf has widened even more.

While Senator Zell Miller, D-Ga., praised Bush on his handling of the war on terror, news broke about the horrific terrorist attack on a Russian school in Beslan, leaving more than 300 people dead, half of them children. The U.S . casualities in Iraq crept past 1,000 and anxieties across the world grew as Iran announced how close it was to nuclear capability.

Conventions can still be used to vocalize the actual policies or proposed policy changes of the candidates. There is certainly an audience for this. Nielsen Media Research reported that in 2000 (Data for 2004 is not yet available) 1.5 million viewers tuned into CNN for the live convention coverage and 5.7 million viewers watched ABC on a nightly basis. Convention organizers this year tried especially to reach out to youth voters by offering essay contests regarding the conventions through teen media channels.

As Rosenberg claims, our televisions have too long been filled with the blinding wattage of political theater. The political parties receive nearly $15 million each from the Federal Election Committee to stage their conventions, funded largely by general tax revenues. We, as voters, can demand more accountability from our political parties.

The conventions can do more than simply provide good late-night humor for Letterman and Leno.

They can educate and inform. They can engage in true debate, offering the citizens a real opportunity to participate in the political process.


Contributing writer Ishanaa Rambachan is a first year from Apple Valley, Minn. She majors in political science and economics.

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