Bad Choice

So the Democrats have picked Philadelphia as the site for their 2016 National Convention, selecting the City of Brotherly Love over the other two finalists — Columbus, Ohio and Brooklyn, New York.

Apparently Philadelphia’s role in American history tipped the balance.  According to the New York Times report, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz touched the Liberty Bell and said:  “In addition to their commitment to a seamless and safe convention, Philadelphia’s deep-rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”  Because both Columbus and Brooklyn presumably also were committed to having “a seamless and safe convention” — at least, you’d sure hope so — we can surmise that Philadelphia’s past role as site of the Constitutional Convention, home of Ben Franklin, and so forth was the deciding factor.

I’m a fan of Philly, but I think this is a bad choice — and not just because I’m a Columbus resident who hoped that both the Republican and Democrat conventions would be held in the Buckeye State in 2016.  The issue is whether you are forward-looking, or backward-looking.  It’s like the decision that was made years ago to change the location of the presidential inauguration ceremony from the east side of the Capitol building to the west side.  The east side had tradition, but the west side was spacious, with a vista spanning the Mall and its monuments.  The country’s future lay to the west, and moving the inauguration ceremony was a solid symbolic move — as well as allowing more space.

Which city best represents the future here?  Growing Columbus, with its bustling economy?  Diverse Brooklyn, which is constantly reinventing itself?  Or Philadelphia?

The Conventions Cometh

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions are just around the corner.  The Republican convention comes first, beginning on August 27.  The Democratic convention then starts on September 3.

The conventions don’t have the same importance they had decades ago, when it was not uncommon for dark horse candidates to emerge after deadlocked conventions entered the wee hours.  As recently as 40 years ago unruly delegates at the Democratic convention delayed the acceptance speech by the party’s presidential candidate, George McGovern, until well after prime time TV viewers had gone to bed.  Now, of course, conventions are heavily scripted affairs, with little drama and a heavy emphasis on messaging.

This evolution has caused some to argue that conventions are useless and should be jettisoned.  I disagree.  There is a liturgical element to conventions that will always have a place in American politics.  The welcoming address, the platform debates, the nomination speeches, the keynote address, the acceptance speeches — all are steeped in tradition, and all can tell you something about where the parties are heading and what they want to project.  Who have the parties selected to speak, and what are they saying?  With the careful planning that goes into modern political conventions, you can be confident that party approves of every carefully tailored word being spoken from the podium.

The parties are just starting to announce who will be speaking at the conventions.  We know that the Democratic nominees, President Obama and Vice President Biden, will speak at their convention, and GOP nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will address the Republican gathering.  We also know the keynote speakers — and here there is an interesting contrast.  The Democratic keynoter will be dashing Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who is a Harvard graduate and has been described as the “Latino Obama.”  His Republican counterpart is bluff New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who successfully dealt with his state’s budget problems and promises to tell some “very direct truths” during his address.  Can anyone doubt that these two keynote addresses are likely to sound very different themes?

I’m no political junkie, but I think conventions are fascinating.  When the gavels go down on August 27 and September 3, I’ll be watching.