Sunday, July 27, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

I discuss it over at OTB.

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By Steven L. Taylor

From today’s Mobile Press-Register

Sunday, July 27, 2008
Special to the Press-Register

It won’t be long before Democratic and Republican delegates from the 50 states and various territories gather to hold their national conventions, and Alabamians will play a role in both.

Alabama will send some 60 citizens to the Democratic National Convention and 48 to the GOP’s.

Once upon a time, the national conventions played a vital role in our party system. Indeed, they were the actual mechanisms used by party insiders to negotiate presidential nominees and their running mates.

The last time that this was true, however, was 1968. Changes to the rules have shifted the power of selection to the primaries and caucuses.

Rather than thinking of the conventions as playing a central role in the electoral process, it is better to understand them as “info-mercials,” wherein the parties attempt to sell their candidate to the public. More to the point, they are probably best understood as pep rallies for the faithful.

It is true that, technically, the formal function of nomination still rests with the national party conventions. Until the delegates vote, neither party has an official nominee.

However, the vote is predetermined by the results of the long process of caucuses and primaries that started in Iowa in a cold day in January and continued until June (although meaningfully, only for the Democrats, as the Republican nominee was essentially settled in February).

As such, the conventions are really nothing more than massive rubber stamps. In this case, the primary/caucus process has filtered the two major parties down to one candidate each: Sen.Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democrats and Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the Republicans. It is all over but the shouting at this point (and yes, there will be some shouting — not to mention signs, streamers and funny hats).

The rubber stamps are poised to drop in Denver for the Democrats and in Minneapolis for the Republicans.

Sure, there have been blips of drama over the years, such as Ted Kennedy’s unsuccessful attempt at dislodging Jimmy Carter from the nomination in 1980, but really, the conventions have been studies in anticlimax since the reforms.

And yes, there will be some fantastical speculation between now and then by bored pundits who will conjure scenarios in which the conventions might produce results that differ from those foreordained for them, but these are as likely as Ole Miss winning the SEC in football this season. It could happen in theory, but we all know that it isn’t going to.

It would take death or major scandal for either Obama or McCain to be denied his party’s nod, even though there are still some Hillary Clinton supporters who dream of a floor fight via a roll-call vote of the delegates.

The fact that only media outlets like C-SPAN will broadcast the events in their entirety should tell you all you need to know about the bottom-line significance of these processes and how far they have fallen from the days of wall-to-wall coverage by the networks — when there was only a handful of channels, no less.

They have gone from being all there was on TV to being niche programming, and with good reason. Only the party faithful and political junkies are likely to have much interest in these productions.

Certainly, it’s possible that there will be a noteworthy speech or two given, although in honesty, truly memorable (let alone consequential) speeches are few and far between.

However, Barack Obama himself was introduced to the American public in his 2004 convention speech. Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech in 1992 is still discussed, and the late Ann Richards scored a sound bite for the ages when she stated that then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

Of course, Buchanan’s relevance in the GOP was already eroding by the time he made that speech, and Bush went on to win the presidency in 1988, so memorable-ness isn’t the same as long-term importance.

It is also true that part of the convention process is for committees to draw up the party platforms, which contain the basic statements of the beliefs and policy goals of the parties. However, these documents do not bind the candidates in any way, so they’re really exercises in futility.

The only other function that the conventions have played in recent years is to signal the start of the general election campaign season (as opposed to the primary season). Specifically, that meant the shift to full public financing of the campaign.

However, even that role is diminished this year by Obama’s decision to opt out of the process and raise his own money for that portion of the campaign.

Truth is, it’s time to reform (if not do away with) the entire convention process, seeing as how it is currently nothing more than a lengthy, expensive anachronism. There’s no reason to spend all the time and money (some of which is provided by tax dollars, by the way) needed to have these conventions just so that a pre-determined choice can be made.

Of course, such reform should be linked up to a revamping of the entire nomination process, but that is for another column on another day.

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By Steven L. Taylor

I blogged about it at OTB1 this morning: Yet Another Blow to the FARC

  1. I am doing some filling for James while he is on vacation–which means some unique posting over there and some cross-posting, as the whim strikes, I guess. []
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Friday, July 25, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: UT officer who shot chimp was warned to stay away.

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By Steven L. Taylor

I was reading James Joyner’s round-up of the coverage of Obama’s speech in Germany (along with the comments) and a few thoughts occurred1.

I find it amusing that some on the rightward side of things is criticizing the trip as nothing but show. Of course it was for show. What else is campaigning for? What was McCain’s trip to Colombia and Mexico if not for show?

Sure, the trip did little (if anything) to actually confer foreign policy experience on Obama. But by the same token , going around the US talking about social security, taxation, welfare, education or whatever confers no domestic policy experience, either.

This was campaigning–nothing more, nothing less.

I find it all interesting because 1) it demonstrate the ongoing significance of the US, as I can’t imagine another candidate from any other country going abroad and receiving any attention whatsoever, let along this kind of attention; 2) I wonder the degree to which this is a new thing-i.e., taking the campaign abroad (if so, it is an interesting development in modern campaigning); and 3) I wonder if McCain now regrets goading Obama into going to Iraq, as if Obama hadn’t gone to Iraq/Afghanistan, I suspect he wouldn’t have gone to Europe.

Indeed, on that last count I have to think that McCain may be regretting the whole running total of days since Obama had been to Iraq and the whole “look at me, I went to Latin America and so should you” bit.

Indeed, now McCain is criticizing what Obama did while abroad (via MSNBC’s First Read):

“I would rather speak at a rally or a political gathering any place outside of the country after I am president of the United States,” McCain told O’Donnell. “But that’s a judgment that Sen. Obama and the American people will make.” 

And it should be noted that First Read post notes:

However, on June 20, McCain himself gave a speech in Canada — to the Economic Club of Canada — in which he applauded NAFTA’s successes. An implicit message behind that speech was that Obama had been critical of the trade accord. Also, McCain’s trip to Canada was paid for by the campaign.

Clearly the McCain camp was hoping that Obama was going to go abroad and commit some sort of gaffe that they could exploit. I can see nothing of consequence that Obama gave the McCain campaign and plenty that the Obama campaign can use to their own positive end.

  1. In fact, part of this post is an expanded version of a comment I left there []
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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Oil prices slip to seven-week low

US sweet, light crude fell $2.64 to trade at $122.85 a barrel – more than $20 off their peak earlier in July, when prices reached a record $147.27.

More falling, please.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Earlier in the week, the word was that McCain might be picking a running mate this week, but it ended up not to be the case (leading Novak to speculate that the McCain camp was looking for some press during Obama Abroad ’08).

Now WaPo reports: McCain May Act Soon on VP Pick

Anxious to counter the blanket media coverage that has followed Sen. Barack Obama on his overseas journey, Sen. John McCain is weighing whether to announce his running mate in the coming weeks before the spotlight shifts to China and the opening of the Olympic Games next month.


The Olympics conclude the day before the Democratic nominating convention opens in Denver, and the GOP convention begins in Minneapolis-St. Paul just four days after the Democratic gathering ends.

One wonders as to whether this would really make that much difference at this stage. I still don’t think that most people will paid significant attention until convention season starts.

The story itself is the typical mix of who might be on McCain’s short list (nothing new) and useless quotes (“I have not. I can only be interested if John is,” Ridge said Tuesday. “I’m not lobbying for it. I’m not seeking it.”)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Pet rabbit credited with saving couple from fire.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the AP: Air Force missile launch crew fell asleep.

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By Steven L. Taylor

If one doesn’t want to read the NYT mag’s piece cited below, you can read the BBC’s summary: Karzai ‘impeding Afghan drug war’.

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