Joe Nocera: They’re Not What They Used to Be

Joe Nocera is a columnist for the New York Times.

...There is a reason journalists began flocking to conventions once upon a time. Up until 1960, they were the exact opposite of what they are now. Rather than an exercise in public relations, they were essentially a huge fight, with cajoling and horse-trading and balloting that could go on into the wee hours. Conventions, not primaries, were the process by which the parties selected their nominees for president and vice president.

Here was Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, winning the nomination on the fourth ballot in a tense all-night session. Here was his opponent in 1940, Wendell Willkie, winning the Republican nomination in dramatic fashion on the sixth ballot. Here was Adlai Stevenson in 1956 deciding to let the convention choose between two senators, John F. Kennedy and Estes Kefauver, as his vice-presidential candidate. “It kept going back and forth,” recalls Charlie Peters, the founding editor of The Washington Monthly. “It was very exciting.”

Henry Brady, the dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley — and an expert on political conventions — says that he thinks the last truly meaningful convention was 1968. “There was still a sense that the convention was a decision-making body,” he said....

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