Conventions draw mixed reviews

Terrebonne added to disaster declaration
September 12, 2012
Crime Blotter: Reported offenses in the Tri-parishes
September 12, 2012

Arena banners have been removed. Confetti and balloons are all swept away. Attendees of both the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention posted smartphone photos of themselves with celebrities on their favorite social media pages. And, for the most part, life in Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., should be getting back to normal.

The Federal Election Commission listed the Republicans having spent more than $4.4 million for select elements of their convention, while the Democrats ran a tab of $6.5 million. Taxpayer subsidies for the two rallies totaled more than $18.2 million, covering costs for entertainment, catering, transportation, hotels, multi-media biographies of both candidates and other expenses.

Many of the combined 10,000 die-hard participants at each three-day event went home enthusiastic – certain their excursions into the spotlight of national political campaigns made a difference to benefit their candidates and the country.

On the other hand, some career pollsters and political strategists wonder if the time, expense and effort to produce these extravaganzas make any difference in the electoral process. They note one certainty – political conventions today are completely different than those of previous generations.

Skilled Observation

Housed at Nicholls State University is the non-profit and non-partisan Louisiana Center for Women in Government. The organization’s director, Laura Badeaux, identified what was presented at both the DNC and RNC as “cheerleaders of the game.”

The intention of each convention, Badeaux said, is to generate excitement among the American people, and each event included elements that disturb her. “It is the candidates that are the players,” she said. “In terms of what each candidate tries to do to get elected, each [television] channel is not so much trying to give the news as giving their own opinion on the state of the economy and the state of America. That bothers me a lot.”

“There are things [regarding the DNC and RNC presentations] that are interesting to me,” political pollster and strategist Elliott Stonecipher said. “As closely scripted as they are, as manipulated as they are, how do these work anymore? I’m interested in seeing how each party responds about their conventions by 2016.”

Stonecipher said the current political convention model needs to change for a new generation that realizes those parties are too expensive to conduct. This generation, he explained, also recognizes candidates as being generally selected before conventions ever take place.

“There is a broad growing awareness of what a flood of information in this information age is doing to the culture,” Stonecipher said. “It is changing it – faster than everybody thought. In that context there is a growing awareness and suspicion that the political product we get in America is driven by a cottage industry of political professionals. It is a very small group of very lucrative-paid pros who don’t care one tinker’s damn about who the president is. What they care about it is getting their piece of that pie.”

A nationally recognized and respected strategist, Stonecipher said the very essence of how government works has changed significantly during the past 40 years. He added that the national political game of elections has become just that – a strategic winner-take-all competition among professionals.

“Ninety percent of people believe their vote doesn’t count,” Stonecipher said. “That is going to eat away and destroy the way we choose a president from within.”

Stonecipher said political conventions of past generations were of consequence and looked like they mattered. They held the attention of viewers, in part because of the limited number of television networks, but also because of a more involved public and respect from candidates for that public.

“Those conventions showed Americans a part of how the product is delivered,” Stonecipher said. “Now, this is embarrassing to admit, but I had to make a conscious decision what to watch, because Bill Clinton was speaking at the same time the [Texas] Rangers were in a 7-6 ballgame with the [Kansas City] Royals and the [Dallas] Cowboys looked like they might beat the [New York] Giants. I was thinking what to decide to record and what to watch. How did that happen? I used to stay glued to the political conventions. I watch these things now and think, ‘My God, what is the point in a deal done way before the conventions?’”

“The only part of the DNC I saw was what was played [as a television rerun] after midnight,” Badeaux said. “On the RNC I didn’t have electricity because of the hurricane.”

Participant Perspectives

“The DNC and the RNC are both pep rallies,” Terrebonne Parish Council Chairwoman and DNC Super Delegate Arlanda Williams said. “But I left the DNC with a positive attitude, and I’m fired up and ready to go.”

A strong supporter of President Obama, Williams said the convention offered her an experience of solidarity. “There was so much unity there,” she said. “You really and truly do have to attend it to understand it.”

“I thought it was very good,” state Rep. Lenar Whitney said of the RNC.

Whitney, designated as a National Republican Committeewoman, intended to attend the convention, arrived in Tampa, Fla., and then immediately drove home to Louisiana because of the developing threat of what became Hurricane Isaac. “I was just disappointed not to be part of the Republican delegation. All the speakers focused on jobs, education and what we need to do to get our students ready for the jobs of tomorrow,” Whitney said of her convention assessment after watching it on television.

“I think there was a nice demographic of all ages and races there,” Louisiana tea party member Stacy Hargenrader said after being at Tampa for the convention, but not having credentials to enter the RNC. “So I watched it from my hotel room. We couldn’t get within three blocks of the center.”

With Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney running neck-and–neck Whitney and Hargenrader agreed the presidential race of 2012 is the most divisive they remember. Williams confirmed convention delegates are passionately loyal to their candidates.

Extended Expectations

“I have yet to see anything [this political year] that simply gives the facts,” Badeaux said. “It is very difficult not to put our feelings, our emotions and our wishes into whatever it is we have received and communicate that to others. I think it is over the top.”

“I think both campaigns are now in the mode of, ‘We’ve got to survive the debates and we’ve got to deliver our best ground game,” Stonecipher said. “I think they are locked in.”

Stonecipher said the Obama camp will have to defend more states than it intended. At the same time, Romney will have to capture enthusiasm among young and minority voters while everything that has ever been seen as a weakness will be exposed.

“The substance of the conventions and what they mean from here leads us to a very polarized country,” Stonecipher said. “They come down to miniscule margins. Now we are down to a campaign that will spend $1 billion on eight battleground states while 94 percent of Americans are done. We don’t know which ones will turn out at the polls, but we know those people have already made their decision.”

“Who is the closest to the truth?” Hargenrader asked regarding what the DNC and RNC each offered. “Somewhere in all this the truth lies and it is up to the citizens to decide what that truth is.”

Badeaux and Stonecipher said neither party closed the deal with voters during their conventions. They further contend that the DNC and RNC only demonstrated how a nation that intentionally spent decades to become more inclusive has instead become more polarized.