Blogs > Liberty and Power > Rats on the West Side, Bedbugs Uptown

Sep 3, 2004 10:13 am

Rats on the West Side, Bedbugs Uptown

According to the news reports today, Bush says"In all of these proposals, we seek to provide not just a government program, but a path -- a path to greater opportunity, more freedom, and more control over your own life.” (I didn’t watch, I chose to spend the hour more productively, viz., drinking very old Port.) That sounds great! More freedom and more autonomy for the individual – why that’s just what I favor too! But really, is there any evidence that this is what we can expect? According to CNN, Bush “spoke of revamping Social Security to allow younger workers to set up"personal" accounts -- a proposal Democrats have criticized as opening the door toward privatization.” This single sentence encapsulates so much of my disillusionment with the two-party system: the Republicans talk about privatizing social security in half-measures, and then don’t do it anyway; and the Democrats criticize them for even talking about the half-measures! So neither party actually has any intention of letting me invest my own money for retirement. Those half-measures Bush mentioned last night were the same ones he mentioned four years ago, of course, and yet the system remains totally unchanged. My best guess is that, four years from now, it will still remain totally unchanged, regardless of who wins in November.

Why do they even have conventions, a friend of mine wrote to ask the other day. I said that they used to be for actual deliberation, and now it’s just a junket. (Just out of curiosity, do any of the historians here know when was the last time a nomination was sufficiently contested as to make the convention meaningful?).

So let’s see: neither Bush nor Kerry favors same-sex marriage, neither of them will make any steps whatsoever towards social-security reform nor significantly reform the tax code, neither will end ag or tobacco subsidies, both are trade protectionists, and they both favored the invasion of Iraq and the “Patriot Act.” Tell me again why it’s so important to vote?

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Skip Oliva - 9/4/2004

In 1972, the Democrats started to adopt more standardized rules for their conventions. Prior to that point, the convention had only two fixed rules--the "unit rule" that required a state delegation to cast all of its votes for the candidate preferred by a majority of the delegation, and the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to nominate a candidate (this is why there were more multi-ballot Democratic conventions than Republican, since the GOP always required a simple majority.)

Also in 1972, the Democrats adopted rules expanding the number of delegates and requiring all sorts of "diversity" within delegations.

None of these changes, however, necessarily explain why conventions have become less spontaneous. The real answer, I think, is that the frontloading of primaries relative to the pre-1972 period imposes higher upfront costs that reduce the number of viable candidates.

Keith Halderman - 9/3/2004

As I recall Ford had enough delegates going into the convention, however, it took him almost all of the primaries to get them. The greatest institutional change took place in the Democratic party after 1964 because there were two delegations from Mississippi, the regular Democrats and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats. The institutional change after 1964 favored the primary over the back room.

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/3/2004

Seriously, I was too young in 76 to have been paying this level of attention -- was it, at the time of the convention, an open question whether Ford or Reagan would be the nominee?

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/3/2004

Yeah. The Chicago Riots---outside the Hall, while Mayor Daley's guys muscled people inside the Hall.

That made all future conventions stick to a script. :)

(The only other convention to have a little drama was the Ford-Reagan face off in 1976...)

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/3/2004

Great, thanks. Did any institutional changes take place post-68 to make sure that the conventions would thenceforth always be moot, or has it just worked out that way?

Keith Halderman - 9/3/2004

In my mind the last meaningful convention, in the sense that the canidate was not pre-determined, was the Democrats in 1968. I could be wrong about that though.