Monday, August 27, 2012

Convention Season

Gerard N. Magliocca

It is fashionable nowadays to dismiss the national political conventions as obsolete. And there is no doubt that folks like me wish that they could see an old-fashioned screaming match on the floor (but never will).  Nevertheless, conventions do matter.  President Obama, of course, became presidential material through his keynote address at the 2004 DNC.  Party nominees can still get a bounce in the polls from their conventions, and party platforms still tell us something important about public opinion.

The most interesting trend to me, though, is the expectation that the nominee's spouse (and, in some instances, children) will give a major address.  Aside from Eleanor Roosevelt's "No Ordinary Time" speech to the 1940 DNC, I'm pretty sure that this was not the practice until the 1990s.  Really, why should I care about what Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's sons, Michelle Obama, or most other family members of the candidates have to say?  While it is true that some spouses are influential advisors (or, in Edith Bolling Wilson's case, the de facto President), they virtually never talk about their own policy views during a convention.  Instead, they act as character witnesses for the candidate, but in a way that is entirely predictable.

I'm baffled by this constitutional custom, though I would note that Walter Bagehot once explained that people are fascinated by the Royal Family because "[a] family on the throne is an interesting idea . . . It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life."




Are there unpredictable character witnesses?

Eventually, we might have a convention when the angry ex-spouse or disgruntled child attacks the nominee of the other party.

We might have if Gingrich had won the nomination.

Incidentally, I think we are reaching the point where proving you are not a robot is harder for humans than for robots

Particularly now, personality is a large part of winning the presidency, and as the head of state, the "first lady" is logically of interest. Predictable it might be, but that could be said about anything the candidate himself might say.

It seems quite unsurprising that meeting the candidate's wife and family would be a part of the show, which it very well is. Note this is not just for the members of the convention, it is for the viewing audience, and celebrity wives is a normal interest there.

It interests me when this sort of thing "baffles" people. Anyway, interesting tidbit: Cary Grant introduced Betty Ford in the 1976 Republican convention.

I'd add that these days, it is the norm for the first lady to have a voice, a cause, and it helps to show that you are a modern man, your wife an equal, with views of her own and so forth. Specific wives as noted also have particular strategic roles, so independent of being the person's spouse, face time would make sense for them. Various spouses (including Bill Clinton) fit this bill in recent years.

[and yes, the robot thing is annoying]

I'm baffled by this constitutional custom...

Constitutional custom?

Politics was the first reality show. First families were the subject of gossip since the advent of the Republic. Having wives do a television turn for the voters is simply an evolution of this theme.

Baffles was my polite way of saying "It's idiotic."

It's not the "baffles" that I understand Bart to be taking issue with, it was the "constitutional custom" part. Custom it may be, but it's got precisely nothing at all to do with Constitution.

Well, I'm using constitutional in the British sense to mean "well-established." I should have explained that.

It really isn't "idiotic" to have character witnesses at political conventions, especially when the putative first lady in question in fact has (according to the candidate himself) some significant role in the campaign, including on policy matters.

I'm sorry, it is completely stupid.

First Ladies (and First Husbands, when we hopefully get some of them) are irrelevant, unimportant individuals. The model for them is Cherie Booth (Blair), who kept her job in the private sector during Tony Blair's terms as Prime Minister.

The idea that the wife of the President should handle the social calendar and advocate for some uncontroversial cause is a vestige of pure sexism and patriarchy. And the idea that anything she says about her husband will be useful to the voters is stupid-- all these speeches are written by the campaigns anyway, and it really doesn't matter if the candidate's wife can deliver a speech. (John Glenn's wife, famously, had big problems speaking in public. I await anyone telling me how that made Glenn a less effective politician.)

The office of "First Lady" should be abolished, the coverage should be abolished, and these speeches should be abolished.


You note that the speeches are written. Duh. Seriously, duh. Unlike Clint Eastwood, most speeches are written. What is the point of that?

The idea that the spouse of a candidate or anyone can give no insight to the person is stupid. Since when is that true? Spouses have insights about each other.

And, voters -- wrongly or not -- care about them. It is "stupid" to think any number of them were irrelevant. Come on. If they are relevant what they say about their husband is too.

Grain of salt and all that, but what is so special about her giving a speech as compared to someone else there? It's a convention. It's a show. Why not have local notables, scripted pols and yes spouses give speeches?

Finally, Romney is saying his wife is a major adviser. Maybe, he is full of it. But, that's what he said. Spouses repeatedly are good ambassadors. This is true in and out of politics.

As to the office of the first lady, the presidency is in part ceremonial. Always has been. If a woman is president, we would have a first husband. It is sexist to think a first husband would not serve a similar role.

I don't think a spouse is irrelevant in general but really it's just ONE speaker among many at what is after all a party of sorts to rev up the base. Why it is stupid to have a potential first lady, especially one the candidate says is important to him give a speech as compared to Eastwood, some party hack etc. is confusing to me.

you have to discover what the actual celebration guidelines tend to be and find out exactly what clothes signal is actually, which can make a person conscious of the actual celebration put on you'll want to prevent putting on cocktail dress, instead of put on. The majority of the college managers arrange graduating events which are the official in order to semi-formal. Nevertheless, most of them aren't as well rigid concerning the gown signal. Instead of putting on athletic shoes as well as denim jeans, you need to put on something which appears absolutely womanly as well as stylish.


It's a show. Any other function it performed historically, it no longer performs. It is now an extended commercial for the Party's candidate. If you like such things, enjoy! Otherwise don't expect it to deliver anything else.

The candidate's family saying nice things about him is a key art of the Republic Party's show because their candidate is perceived as cold and remote.

This isn't news, is it?

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