26 August 2008

A Few Days In August

Everyone else is going crazy about the Democratic National Convention held this year in my hometown.

Why Don't I Care About the DNC?

I'm not sure why the convention is such a big deal, although the physical proximity of so many powerful people is somewhat notable and does make some allowance for security a necessity.

I've never been a huge fan of meeting celebrities in person (why pay to meet a star in person when you can watch one make a better prepared performance for less on the silver screen or your TV), live political oratory (I even prefer to read the State of the Union address the day after in transcript form), empty parliamentary procedure (in real life it is impossible to hold a deliberative democratic meeting with several thousand people or more present), or endless successions of parties (we have fraternities and night clubs for that).

Little of importance will be decided this week by the delegates. The real grass roots Democratic events in Colorado this year took place at the caucuses (in February), the county and multi-county assemblies that followed, and the primaries earlier this month. Elections matter. Conventions don't.

We've know who the Democrats will select to be their nominee, and listened to the concession speeches of each of the other serious candidates, months ago.

Political party platforms produced in the Convention process have less utility than the toilet paper used by their drafters while they are being written. The ad hoc candidate political promises crafted in smoke filled rooms and proclaimed in stump speeches and on candidate websites matter far more.

Speeches at the convention rarely proclaim anything that the politician or quasi-politician making it hasn't revealed at fundraisers, rubber chicken dinners, and legislative speeches, dozens of times before the convention.

Most party housekeeping chores at the convention have been crafted by obscure people on more obscure committees long in advance and will simply be ratified this week. Those that are not pre-ordained defer, appropriately, to the wishes of our nominee.

The really important event of the week, the selection of a Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats, Joe Biden, happened by text message and rumors leak before the convention even started, with no grass roots input. This choice deserves its own post, but unless you are from Delaware, the Vice Presidential pick doesn't add much to the festivities. Exciting is not an adjective one strongly associates with Biden.

Of course, unlike me, lots of people involved in politics love parties and find the convention to be a rare and invaluable opportunity to network with people they have few other national opportunities to meet. The convention also reminds Democrats how much they have in common, building unity after a bruising primary season. But, honestly, political conventions themselves aren't any more meaningful in the United States than they are in China or were in the Soviet Union. If anything, they matter less.

One could produce the same formal political outputs as the conventions do without holding a convention at all, except in the very rare circumstance where there are multiple candidates who can win, or the departure from the race of the leading candidate after he or she has won the nomination.


I find the notion of "Recreate '68" ironic. The reforms instituted at that convention are what have made all subsequent ones little more than politically irrelevant eat desert first (and twice) coronations, while we actually anoint a new leader many months later is a typically less elaborate event in January of the following year.

The number of protesters has been about 2-3% of what security and protest planners had predicted, the rhetoric at the big protest concert is scarcely different from that heard in committee meetings inside the convention perimeter, and the hundred or so folks who have been arrested so far seem to be mostly folks who put "get arrested at a political protest" on their summer to do list, along with an inevitable sprinkling of innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time (like one of the librarians I recently heard retelling her experience).

As I privately told many people well in advance, I didn't expect the protests to amount to much because (1) the Democratic party is firmly in favor of withdrawing from Iraq (a position even John McCain has little choice but to adopt given a strong sentiment of the allegedly legitimate government in Iraq to be rid of us), (2) there isn't a draft, (3) politically interested adults age 18-21 can now vote, and (4) national political party conventions are politically irrelevant, since all the important decisions are made in advance either by the political campaigns or by the voters. There is, and always will be a generation gap, but this time around, the political leader favored by the young is at the podium, not leading angry crowds in the parking lot.

Life Goes On

Anyway, every now and then I have a weekend where I don't go into the office. With everyone else crazed about Democratic National Convention event planning, this was one of those weeks when it paid to stay away.

With my daughter, I bought shoes for cross country, and lightly supervised her latest spur of the minute initiative, almond biscotti (yum). With my son, I bought football cleats and tossed a pigskin for a while (not that I have wisdom to offer on that front, I never even played football in gym). With my wife . . . wait a second, this is a work safe, family friendly blog.

Everyone (except the cat, who prefers napping, and the fish, who prefers swimming) has found time to read. The Olympics went out with a wimper. Hey, after women's beach volley ball is over, what's the point anyway? (I suppose that there are platform diving and gymnastics, but those athletes are all jail bait.) Our television, which is on its death bed, is likely to follow soon after, and we are in no rush to replace it.

My law partner's dog Turk, with whom I'd become well acquainted, passed at a ripe old age in dog years.

For some reason, interest in cultural currents from Japan has overtaken our family. My son is a stalwart devotee of Pokemon, as are several other boys at his school. I've recently become hooked on anime and manga, mostly shojo manga (some more properly called josei or yuri) and their English language imitators. My dear wife has meanwhile sought to bring our children an Americanized version of the Japanese Bento Box for lunch. My daughter seems to have resisted Japanese cultural influences, perhaps due to a inoculation of Hello Kitty earlier in her life, but who knows how the world will turn.

It isn't that politics, at every level, doesn't have a place. Last week, the Democratic Party of Denver discussed a budget for another year, preparing to soldier away for another year. Today, I cast my ballot for the Board of Directors of the American Humanist Association, of which I am a member (their ballot, unlike those of corporate America, offers multiple choices and enough information about each candidate to make some semblance of a meaningful choice, even if a nominating committee ultimately controls whom you may vote for in that process). People are busy organizing for the small number of close races in the 2008 general election, which are very important, and for the myriad ballot initiatives we will have to consider in the fall.

But, sometimes the personal isn't political. A few days in August is as good of a time as any to collect and recenter, to meditate and to sharpen the saw. In my humble opinion, the academics and the Jews have it right, by choosing to start the year in early September, give or take a week or two. It is time to make new beginnings and to decide how to begin anew.

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