The recurring criticism of the modern major-party political conventions is that they have become four-day infomercials, overly scripted, overly sanitized and existing almost solely to ratify a decision made months before. And up to a point, that’s certainly true as the Democratic Party convenes in Denver.
Sen. Barack Obama semi-officially became the nominee in early June with the final primary, but in retrospect the handwriting was on the wall for Hillary Clinton’s hopes in early February. What suspense there is - will the Clintons behave - is largely artificial.
Each of the four days of the convention is organized around an innocuous “theme,” such as “Renewing America‘s Promise” or “Securing America’s Future.” The final night is organized around the campaign’s opaque and - looked at in a certain way - vaguely sinister slogan, “Change You Can Believe In.”
Lest there be any doubt that this political extravaganza is intended to wow the viewing public and really launch the product, to use a marketing term, Mr. Obama will give his acceptance speech, not, as is customary, in the hall but in the 76,000-seat Invesco Field at Mile High football stadium. This despite the misgivings of some of his advisers that the stadium venue might make Mr. Obama look like too much of a celebrity, a problem most politicians would be delighted to have.
For all the theatrics, conventions are deeply rooted in American political tradition. The first Democratic convention was held 176 years ago and the party was last in Denver in 1908 when it nominated William Jennings Bryan for his third and last unsuccessful run for the White House. And aspects of that tradition are likely gone for good - the brokered deal in the proverbial smoke-filled room and the endless roll call votes.
But in this age of artificial electronic intimacy, the conventions serves its original - arguably even more valuable - purpose of bringing together in person and face-to-face that vast tribe of members of Congress, governors, mayors, state legislators, party officials, ward heelers, precinct workers, consultants and strategists that make up the body politic. It is democracy distilled.
If the two parties want to show their best faces to the public, showcase their rising stars and send their candidates toward the White House in a shower of red, white and blue balloons, that’s fine. They are under no obligation to put on a public show of internecine bloodletting.
To cite another glitzy gathering that just wrapped up: Let the Games go forward.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.