Monday, October 01, 2007

Why Political Conventions?

(Second in a series from OpenSourceDem.)

Political conventions give citizens vote and voice. They double the initial power of a non-secret ballot that may not be counted anyway and that, if counted, is usually canceled out by another vote.

It is all very well to take election integrity seriously. But that is by no means the only or even the main source of rot at the very root of our republican democracy.

Even if not tampered with and then tallied correctly, all votes are not equal. For example:

-- A straight-ticket vote is always more powerful than picking through down-ballot and even some up-ballot races on the ballot.

-- Some votes are protected by gerrymandering of election districts.

-- And other votes, arbitrarily attributed to “likely” or “swing” voters, are effectively privileged after the fact by pollsters over those of less likely and more loyal voters.

So, voting is not and never has been the be-all and end-all of republican democracy, necessary to be sure, but not sufficient.

Moreover, your individual voice can be leveraged in convention by participation in like-minded caucuses and amplified from your precinct all the way to the national convention by a thousandfold.

Finally, conventions do more than nominate candidates who if elected may go on to represent those that elected them, but today are more likely to go panhandling to whomever financed their opponent.

Note that two marginal Democrats newly elected from Texas went on to deliver votes for President BUSH and Alberto GONZALES as the state party apparatus channeled the Blue Wave elsewhere. This was probably not what Democratic voters had in mind, but it fills the pockets of candidates’ pimp-consultants and delights the state party establishment.

Conventions, however, are the highest authority in any political party and an opportunity to change that party establishment.

A convention:

-- credentials delegates from previous conventions and selects them for the next one;

-- memorably adds value and meaning to political participation and identity for every participant;

-- writes permanent rules and a campaign platform; and

-- elects party executives and conducts any other lawful business of the party.

Those elected to public office have complex responsibilities, not always or even mostly to the fragile electoral majorities that put them in office. Elected officials can listen to voters but they will hear nothing directly and white noise indirectly from pollsters. Actually most of those pollsters work for pimp-consultants or lobbyists.

So without putting a strong party and practical platform forged in convention behind them, electing Democrats is more than just disappointing and frustrating, it is very nearly futile.

By contrast, the GOP has demonstrated that vigorous conventions make for a disciplined and effective party generally. You can disagree with the extremist GOP platform, and our state party apparatus likes to mock it. But GOP officials take that platform and their conventions very seriously indeed. Their officials are not better than ours. But their convention, and to that extent their party, is more effective than ours. It is a source of political energy for them which they turn into both funds and votes.

Third parties have only conventions, no primary elections. They have very poor prospects in even-year, statewide general elections. But they can dominate elections in well-governed small municipalities, conceivably even large cities.

Texas statutes now prohibit “fusion” ballots and merged conventions in even years. But a strong Democratic Party with durable credentials almost certainly should participate in joint, odd-year conventions, especially with the Green and Libertarian parties, which have some elements of a practical agenda.

For Democrats, the main obstacle to practical conventions are (a) the party establishment’s preference for beauty pageants in which all serious business is methodically suppressed by systematic time-wasting, (b) delegates’ acceptance of unwritten rules and dubious guidelines that perpetuate a professional and racial patronage chain, as well as (c) sheer inexperience with parliamentary procedure and form.

The good news here is that (a) through (c) are easy to fix starting, uh, backwards with (c).

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