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Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Deliberative Party Convention?

Our chapter on political parties discusses the role of national conventions.  In recent decades, they have served mostly to showcase a candidate who has already clinched the presidential nomination during primaries and caucuses.  This time, there is an outside chance that no one will get a majority of delegates before the GOP convention.  At The Weekly Standard, William Kristol says that such an outcome would be a good thing.
In 1787, the constitutional convention that met and deliberated in Philadelphia saved the Union and produced the Constitution of the United States—described by William Gladstone as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” In 1860, the second convention of the Republican party met in Chicago and nominated, on the third ballot, after considerable deliberation, our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. In 1932, the Democrats convened in Chicago and nominated on the fourth ballot—after a few days in which the balloting was suspended for deliberation—Franklin D. Roosevelt.
 Thus, once every three-quarters of a century or so, the delegates to an American political convention deliberate, and their deliberations produce a notable and impressive outcome. It could happen again in 2012. It could fall to the Republican delegates convening in Tampa, after they have cast their committed first ballot vote and failed to produce a majority for any candidate, to act as a real deliberative convention. It could fall to them to use their judgment to select the best possible nominee for their party and the best possible president for their country.
It would be exciting. It would be nerve-wracking. It would be unpredictable. It hasn’t happened in quite a while. But it could happen. And it could be a good thing for the Republican party.