Jonathan Zimmerman: Thoroughly Conventional

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).

The convention season is upon us! Starting with the Republican National Convention next week, followed by the Democrats' the week after, Americans will watch with bated breath as the parties decide their nominations for president.

Actually, those decisions were made months ago. The real mystery is why anyone watches the conventions - and why we need them at all.

The standard answer is that the conventions allow the parties and their nominees to define themselves on the national stage. In addition, conventions supposedly produce a "bounce" of popularity that can catapult candidates into the White House.

But in this era of nonstop news, haven't the candidates already had ample opportunity to define themselves? It's hard to see why they deserve four more days of round-the-clock coverage, or why taxpayers should be shelling out $136 million to fund two marathons of cocktail mixers, buffet lines, and canned speeches....

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