Wow. That was some humdinger of a speech, huh? Clears up a lot about the upcoming election!
No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama's closing address. Sure, the conventions serve as the unofficial kickoff for the final leg of the presidential campaign. But there’s always another story: Who’ll be the nominee next time? Up-and-coming pols have always used conventions as launching pads for future runs; they hobnob in hotel corridors with the Richie Riches who can fund their early ads in Florida. They make small talk with the New Hampshire county chair in the crazy hat. And they aren't always so subtle; many of the 2016 wannabes schlepped over this week to offer presentations to the Iowa delegation.
Make no mistake: One of the major themes at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was invented by one of its keynote speakers. A little more than a year ago, Elizabeth Warren* told a supporter in a living room in Andover, Massachusetts, that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” What she meant was that American business thrived because it took root in a stable democracy that looked after the common good and invested in roads and education. She expanded that: Anyone who’s benefited has an intergenerational responsibility to pay the fruits of that investment forward.
The message of the first night of the Democratic Convention was “We built it together.” Speaker after speaker took aim at the Republican Party’s Randian, libertarian vision, at the ideology that Britain’s Margaret Thatcher succinctly expressed when she said, “There is no such thing as society.”
There is, too, replied the Democrats. There is temporal society—the intergenerational links, the investment in education that pays off not in your own success but, as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro pointed out, in your children’s. There is the society of laws, where Democrats (in general) and Barack Obama (in particular) have fought for equality in matters of sexual orientation. There is the economic society—now more unequal than it’s been in 80 years—where Obama, in his wife’s words, ensured that paying your medical bill won’t mean you “go broke.”
My first Democratic National Convention came when I was ten. My parents took me along to the new Los Angeles Sports Arena for the second night of the 1960 gathering that nominated Jack Kennedy. The tickets came courtesy of my father’s employers, who ran a mega-tract-home construction company. They may well have been to the right of the Democratic Party; my parents were still stubbornly to its left —members of the all-but-extinct Socialist Party—but no matter. A national political convention didn’t come around every week, and besides, my parents increasingly considered themselves close to the liberal reformers who dominated California’s Democratic Party.
As chance would have it, the second night of that Democratic Convention provided the last gasp of liberalism’s romance with Adlai Stevenson, the party’s nominee in the past two elections, which he lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower. More through his eloquence and his pose of somehow being above politics than through any of his policies (he had disgracefully ducked supporting the fledgling civil-rights movement), Stevenson had become the darling of anti-big-city, machine liberal professionals during the 1950s. He still had strong support in those circles, among California reform Democrats in particular. Kennedy, who was closing in on the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, had dispatched the genuine liberal in the field, Hubert Humphrey, in a series of primaries, and many liberals were still resistant to his charms. Big-city bosses like Chicago’s Richard Daley still held the balance of power at the convention, since only a relative handful of states held primaries that bound delegates to vote for the candidate their state’s voters preferred.
There comes a point in every presidential election battle where political pundits and fanatical West Wing-watchers alike hold their breaths, click their heels, and wish upon an earmark that this will be the year of the brokered convention.
As the surety of Mitt Romney’s arranged marriage to the Republican Party steadily diminishes while other suitors pull ahead, the plausibility of a tussle in Tampa come convention-time in August has grown. Herewith, a look at the peculiar institution of the nomination convention, why all the talking heads are in a tizzy about a brokered instead of a fixed one, and what the odds are of a televised royal rumble this summer.
What is a brokered convention?
In their current form, conventions are exercises in collective vanity, an excuse for the party’s settled nominee—who has already garnered enough delegates to make his competitors drop out—to get media exposure and some prime face-time with party big-wigs. But conventions were once substantive affairs, where candidates’ delegations came to wheel and deal for votes, hoping either to clinch the top slot on the ticket or at least ensure that their ideas make it onto the official party platform. A convention is "brokered" when none of the candidates has the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination and competitors remain in the race. To settle on a nominee, the party goes through a series of re-votes and political horse trading until a candidate is chosen.
Next year's Democratic presidential convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina:
Democrats will gather in Charlotte, N.C., in September to vote on their nomination for the presidential election. The pick signals that President Obama will seek to re-create -- at least in part -- his winning electoral coalition.