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Jewish World Review July 14, 2000 / 11 Tamuz, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Dump conventions! -- IN THE THREE WEEKS starting at the beginning of August there will be three national political party conventions. Why? The Constitution does not mention conventions. Actually, the Constitution doesn't mention political parties either. More than that: The founders thought parties were the pits. Thomas Jefferson said: "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." But, in a trice, the newborn United States had two big parties, Alexander Hamilton's Federalists and Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans, which makes you wonder where Tom ended up.

Thanks to the innovative Anti-Mason protest party in 1832, party conventions came into style. The principal purpose of conventions has been to nominate candidates. But through our unique presidential primary system, that selection is now a done deal before the conventions. Founders, relax. Americans allow parties to exist, but not to choose candidates.

So, barring medical catastrophe, the Republicans (July 31 - August 3) will ratify George W. Bush. Barring controlling legal authority, the Democrats (August 14-17) will ratify Al Gore. And talk about unique. Pat Buchanan will apparently be the nominee of the Reform Party (August 9-13). Buchanan earned the nomination of a party whose former leaders detest him, but forgot to put up a candidate to challenge him. Conventions are supposed to "introduce" the nominee. The Gore campaign says their convention will be "a defining event." In August? America is somewhere else in August.

Until a few elections ago, the major television networks broadcast the events "gavel-to-gavel." So exciting was this that viewers clicked over to watch summer reruns on independent stations and cable channels. Accordingly, the networks dropped the conventions.

Now, if you want to see the action -- what action? -- watch C-Span or PBS. As it happens, that is better than being there in person; at least you see what (some) voters see. I have been to every political convention of both parties since 1972. There are two things I will never forget about these 14 affairs: being bored and being lost.

I'm a slow learner, but slow is not never. This year I am not going to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention. I may, or may not, take a Metroliner daytrip to Philadelphia to go to one GOP party, and immediately come home, unlost.

The biggest excitement will likely be the announcement of the vice presidential nominees. But is a convention necessary to proclaim a vice presidential nominee? It's a choice made by one man. Why not have a press conference and dump the convention?

Among the top vice presidential contenders in George W. Bush's mind are sitting governors, including Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and John Engler of Michigan. A choice of a governor would give Bush a chance to field a "Governor's Ticket" at a time when Republican governors are the most popular political category in the country, mostly because they are more moderate than the GOP-controlled Congress. Such a ticket could diminish the perceived Texo-centric flavor of the Bush campaign and promote a national political theme.

Typically, the choice of a vice president has little bearing on who wins the presidency. But Colin Powell would make a difference. His candidacy would be a landmark for black Americans and help move the perception of the Republican party toward the center of the political spectrum. Alas, he says he's not available.

Gore's short list is said to include California's Gov. Gray Davis, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Since 1988 I have been advocating a Lieberman candidacy for national office. Has that been a kiss of death? This year I'm coming out against him; let's see if that works.

Who and what's on Pat Buchanan's mind regarding a vice presidential choice is not known, although there has been speculation about appropriate possibilities, living and dead. One surprise of the 2000 election so far has been the very high negative reactions (above 60 percent) and the very low vote (about 2 percent) that Buchanan gets in the public opinion polls. Ralph Nader, who is doing better in the polls (about 7 percent), won the Green Party nomination in June. He chose Winona LaDuke as his running mate, then a political unknown, who still is.

Exposure at a scripted national convention is supposed to provide a "bump" in the polls for the nominee. But if both Gush and Bore get a bump, they end up back where they were. Why bother? The only winners of the 2000 conventions are likely to be the Seattle-flavored demonstrators, who will jump up and down for the television cameras.

I am not cynical about politics. There are times when it gets interesting, exciting and important. But this isn't one of them.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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