Friday, July 23, 2004
The awkward question about political conventioneers these days is, What do they really do? I've been asking Minnesota convention delegates this question. The most exasperated response I received was, "They nominate someone for president!"
Nevertheless, it's still surprising to attend a modern-day convention and see firsthand that the delegates don't seem to decide anything. Apart from the state roll-call, anyway.
I used to think that conventioneers spent the tedious afternoon sessions listening to earnest speeches about global trade policy and debating the party platform, before those big confetti-and-balloon dumps at night.
Maybe they did once.
Rod Halverson, an Edwards delegate from St. Paul, puts it this way:
"When a lot of people run for delegate, they announce what a great thing they're going to be doing, and they're going to be working hard for this and that. But after being there three times (to national conventions), our role is somewhat limited. Most of our decisions have already been made."
Still, there are a handful of good reasons for holding a big blowout political gathering, as Halverson and other the Minnesota delegates noted.
Inside the hall, it's a total political bazaar, attended by every politician, pundit, party official, fundraiser, political journalist and striving up-and-comer. For old hands, it's the best place on earth to schmooze, because everyone is there. For young strivers, it's their chance to impress the party powers, the money folks, and the media. And for newbies, it's all a rush.
For those outside the convention hall, the conventions are one of those rare national moments when everyone can take a few days to assess the nominees, and hear the parties present their values. How many Minnesotans have ever heard John Edwards speak for 20 minutes? Or John Kerry? Or for that matter, even Dick Cheney?
So, what do the convention delegates do? They schmooze. They network like crazy. They party. They eat a lot. They haul souvenir tote bags, buy Lucite gee-gaws and collect buttons. Some devote time to a noble cause. Some have their faith in democracy restored. They're supposed to return to Minnesota fired up and ready to carry their team to victory.
"It's wonderful to be a part of history," Halverson said.
And absolutely all of them understand that their role, while on the convention floor, is to cheer wildly, wave signs at the proper moments, and for heaven's sake, don't yawn when the nominee is speaking.
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