Hamilton: National political conventions: Who attends?
Amidst all this talk about a contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democrats not even sure if their anointed one will be “free” to attend their convention in Philadelphia, the question arises: What kind of folks attend these quadrennial political gatherings?
Basically, they are mostly folks who have chosen politics as their avocation. An expensive hobby. Except for the very highest state and national party officials, they pay their own transportation, hotel, meals and other expenses.
Nor is it a spur-of-the-moment avocation. Like becoming good at golf, or bridge or fishing or hunting, or sailing, a lot of time and commitment is required. They are faithful attendees at their local precinct meetings. They attend meetings of their county central committee. They strive to be elected to their party’s state convention where they lobby fellow delegates to elect them to be delegates to their national convention.
Some, but not all, are volunteer campaign workers for their favorite presidential candidate. As a condition for election, they are even willing to be “bound” to vote for the favorite of their state convention. Well, at least on the first ballot. So, in sum, these are by and large people who have paid their political dues down in the trenches and their coveted reward this year is to pay their own expenses to Cleveland or Philadelphia and back.
But, unlike the solitary golfer or fisher or hunter whose hobby is essentially a private quest, the delegates to national party conventions will leave for Cleveland or Philadelphia feeling like they are going to play a personal role in their nation’s future.
On arrival, they will be bombarded by campaign staffers and candidates all vying for their votes. Suddenly amidst the red, white and blue glitter, someone, who may have a rather ho-hum job back home, has an important role to play in a grand political spectacle that is the envy of the world. Well, not in Cuba, North Korea, Red China, Iran or Russia.
But it is not all political maneuvering. Some of the political hobbyists from one state are long-time friends with political hobbyists from other states. Their families count on seeing each other every four years. For some, it is like one grand family reunion.
While naysayers may denigrate them as members of the “political class,” even the naysayers should have the good grace to admit that these folks have done the heavy lifting at their precinct, county, and state levels and have earned the right to play their role in Philadelphia or Cleveland this summer.
But will the fateful votes they cast in Cleveland or Philadelphia be universally applauded back home? No way. Far too many interests converge at these conventions for the delegates to be able to please everyone. The mission of the delegates is to nominate the candidate who, in their collective judgment, has the best chance of defeating the candidate of the other party in November’s general election.
Some will leave Cleveland and Philadelphia elated by their party’s decision and eager to support their party’s nominee. Those who end up disappointed in Philly or Cleveland, will find their commitment to party principles tested. Some avocations are more fun than others.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the Army Language School, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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