The Democratic National Convention wrapped up yesterday. I hope that in the afterglow of each party’s elaborate, self-congratulatory celebration of its platforms and presidential nominee, the members of both parties are feeling elevated, optimistic, and self-assured. I hope they’ve gotten the most out of their festivities, because now the party’s over.
I’m going to say something that will probably be offensive to most of the people who are entrenched on one side or the other of the perfectly uniform political divide: I dislike the very idea of political conventions. They serve only an extraneous function in the nominating process, and meanwhile they represent the worst aspects of American politics, the very things that are consistently dragging down the level of discourse in this country.
Conventions aren’t exactly proving grounds for new ideas, or means of fostering new support. Surely, everyone in attendance and most of those watching from afar already know the policy positions and chosen initiatives of the people put on display on the convention stage. They don’t go to find out more or to discover new angles on old issues. They go to remind themselves that their side of the aisle has all the right answers already lined up.
Vague references to actual solutions are sufficient. So you might hear speeches on the environment and global warming and energy security, but it’s not the time or place to go much beyond familiar buzzwords in order to suggest something new like encouraging bamboo production or actually creating, rather than just promoting, green jobs.
Presumably, the kinds of people who go to conventions are the kinds of people who least need to have their support reinforced or to be reminded of their duty to vote. And if, by chance, someone attends a national political convention with a dissenting voice in mind, such as that of the ubiquitous Ron Paul backers, it’s not as if that voice is given an outlet at the event. It is buried beneath waves of applause and oceans of doting, uniform adulation.
National conventions are part of the ongoing process of Americans losing sight of the difference between politics and the political process. Gatherings of that sort are little more than celebrations of tribalism. Indeed, that’s what most of our political discourse is now – a mass gathering around the community fire for the telling of tales which paint the whole world in the easily-digestible shades of us-against-them.
If that’s something that politicians and their supporters feel they truly need, then so be it. But can we keep the impulse toward self-aggrandizement a little constrained? Can we forget the tribalism and cults of personality once the parties are over, and spend more time exploring new solutions to real problems? I worry that the people who get really into conventions carry that mentality beyond the event. Such passion isn’t a good thing when it’s misapplied, which it is when it’s devoted to a person or a political label rather than the ideas and promises that those things are supposed to represent.
To be quite honest, the circus of American politics and national conventions makes me want to disengage from the whole process. I have little hope for the abandonment of tribalism on the parts of politicians themselves. But I sometimes think that their supporters could have a better impact on their world if they gave up campaigning and voting and just went out and devoted themselves to things like planting and purchasing bamboo instead.
But in light of conventions and combative campaigning and all the wasted energy involved in picking leaders, I’d say that politics is just a necessary evil. It’s still important; it’s just also a bit of a sad spectacle. But what’s more important is building an entire lifestyle around the ideals that you think your tribe and your chosen candidate represent. Politics can help us in moving towards a better future, but it is ultimately accomplished in much subtler ways than that. Always try to remember that notion once the party is over.