30 August 2012

Republicans Still Racist

A black camerawoman who works for CNN says she was "not surprised" to have two people at the Republican National Convention throw peanuts at her and say "this is what we feed animals."
From here. It is worth recalling that the people acting this way aren't just any ignorant, uninformed Republicans whose decision to affiliate with the party is a unilateral one made on a voter registration card. They are party leaders who worked their way up through a long and convoluted process one must weather to be selected as a delegate to the national convention by their Republican party official peers. They are "party insiders" who have an outsized say in running partisan politics in their home states. They are the embodiment of the party's values.

And, the comments aren't notable only because it shows that there are some bad apples in an event with a cast of thousands. Far more telling is the fact that someone could possibly think that this was socially acceptable behavior in the Republican political community in front of a member of the mass media. It is one thing to be unsuccessful at screening out every last racist from your political organization, and it is another to have an organization where racists feel comfortable revealing themselves.

Silver Lining: RNC Delegates Are Irrelevant

The only silver lining is that the delegates in this year's Republican National Convention have essentially no say in any issue of real public policy. The nomination was decided months ago in primary elections and caucuses. Romney's victory was conceded then by all candidates except Ron Paul, who never came close to having enough delegates to defeat Romney. By virtue of powerful traditions in American politics, a Presidential nominee always has more or less unfettered discretion to appoint his own running mate without consulting the delegates to the national convention. Party platforms are interesting historical documents but have almost no influence on the behavior of the party's elected officials.

Delegates in certain committees at the convention can tweak the formula for nominating a Presidential candidate a bit. But, the national party leadership's influence on how funds donated to the party are raised and managed is minimal in an era where most campaign contributions are raised by candidates and political action committees. The conventions of the national political parties are about networking and providing party leaders with bully pulpits, not about making decisions (except in the very rare cases where the primary and caucus results are inconclusive and there is a "brokered convention").

The United States made a decision more than a century ago to gut the power of rank and file parts of political parties relative to candidates, and by and large, its political institutions have adhered to that policy consistently ever since then. Modern American political parties are primarily a brand and a tool for organized networking of politically like-minded individuals. They are not directly an important source of funds for candidates, they don't have strict control over who their nominees are in elections, they engage in only modest amounts of candidate recruitment, and rather than imposing policy coordination or generating new policy ideas they merely articulate ideas that have independently been introduced and become popular among its members already. There is virtually no policy coordination between partisans at the local level and those at the state and federal level, there is only minimal interstate and state-federal policy coordination in either of the two major political parties, and political parties are only minimally involved in the process of making law by citizen initiative. The heavy lifting of partisan politics in America has been delegated to other institutions. The residual political party institutions merely provide a framework within which prospective candidates for elected office can be vetted in a somewhat organizated manner and act collectively in the process of litigating election law issues. (Of course, the situation in state legislatures and Congress where political parties are viable and powerful institutions is quite another thing.)

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