Pity the poor Democrats. They never get any respect. Even after their historic return from twelve years in the minority desert, no one wants to throw them a presidential party.
While the Twin Cities are more than happy to serve as the stomping grounds for the fat cats of the Republican Party, Denver and New York City have balked at hosting the Democratic National Convention. The problem in Denver is a labor dispute. The problem in New York is Michael Bloomberg doesn’t want to risk $80-100 million, which is, to put it into perspective, the amount of money Bloomberg was willing to risk of his own fortune to run for mayor.
He was also willing to risk that amount in 2004 to host the Republican National Convention–most of whose delegates entered Manhattan as if crossing over to the dark side of the moon–so that Karl Rove could exploit the memory of 9/11. If you suspect Bloomberg is insulting Democrats’ relative purchasing power, you are correct.
And yet the mayor may have a point. It’s no secret that presidential conventions have become scripted, stage-managed rituals with little drama and no surprises. And as my friend Micah Sifry, an authority on money in politics says, they also provide a last gasp stab at free TV time that the networks now give most grudgingly to the parties, and a moment for the political-lobbying-industrial complex to gather for a few days –with the key players trying to impress each other, buy and sell influence, and take advantage of some of the last, great big money loopholes in the national political process.
The only people who might mourn them if the conventions were abolished would be political reporters who enjoy all the free food, liquor and sweet attention; the hotel and catering industry in their host city and a small group of history buffs.
Even worse, as Sifry points out, the conventions have also become a huge drain on the public purse, with cities competing for the privilege of showering each party with millions in special favors. Not just free parking and police escorts, but subsidized hotel rooms, millions in telecom services, you name it. (The Center for Public Integrity has uncovered the contractual arrangements made around past conventions and what they found is pretty disturbing. See their report for details on the 2004 DNC, for example.)
A modest proposal: Let the delegates mail in their votes, and let’s take the money that is spent on the conventions by the taxpayers and put it toward something genuinely democratic, noble and educational.