Move political party conventions online

by Andy Oram

I'm totally fed up with the Democratic National Convention. Boston's Democratic mayor and Senator Kennedy apparently wanted the Hub to prove itself a world-class city by hosting the convention (and the Republican governors did little to stand in his way) but now we're coming out looking more like the cowtown we've traditionally been.

Due to the same lack of planning that racked up fourteen and a quarter billion dollar charges for our recent (and still uncompleted) road construction project, the city had to announce that they were closing this very road plus other key traffic arteries during the convention--essentially closing the downtown part of the city for most of a week. I'm not even sure how I'll reach the airport so I can get the hell out of here and make it to the saner city of Portland, Oregon for O'Reilly's Open Source Convention.

Costs to businesses and the city as a whole could reach fifty million dollars. And now John Kerry is even saying he might not even go through the one formality for which the convention is suited--the ritual of accepting the nomination. We'd all be better off without the convention. The main thing holding up the Massachusetts economy now is what most politicians fought like dogs against: the legalization of gay marriage, which has increased tourism, celebrations, and receipts to luxury retailers.

The Republican Convention may not have such a negative effect (it would be even better had they followed through with their original idea and held it on a boat) but political conventions are emerging as an extravagent and unproductive relic of the days before modern media. Thousands of massed observers mindlessly heil-ing it up in front of cameras is so uncool. Heightened security concerns make conventions even more outmoded.

Let's stop holding conventions in person. Let's do them online instead. The medium is ideal for that. People will tire of hoopla and rah-rah quickly, so they'll have to do what the politicians and mass media spend so much effort preventing: a discussion of the issues.

An online convention would air the party's platform as well as the divisions among the party faithful. People viewing the debates would have a chance to find out the party actually is. Since the candidate could not participate in every debate, campaign aides would have to show their mettle and expose their personalities and capabilities to the public. Since campaign aides turn into Cabinet staff, this opportunity to be judged by the public is valuable in itself.

Physical conventions draw protesters outside (usually with negative results, of which the 1968 Democratic convention is only the most obvious trauma), but online conventions would have protesters inside.

The debacle of the Democratic Party Convention could become a chance to re-examine what politics is all about. See E-Democracy for more ideas.

What is politics all about?


2004-05-24 06:59:35
From broadband to dial-up ...
Online conventions sounds so ... Howard Dean.
2004-05-24 13:54:05
You just disproved your point. If a as techno-adapt group of geeks as Open Source enthusiasts need to meet to get together, how could a much lower tech group like repubs or demos pull it off?

Also, conventions are much more about TV coverage than anything else. The fact that one side or another gets a positive 'bump' in the polls after a convention is going to be hard to ignore.

2004-05-26 11:08:28
I went to my county's Republican convention last month, and am going to my state's this weekend. I think my name will be on the ballot for the national convention in NYC, but I highly doubt I will be elected. Also, I telecommute full time, and do most of my communication online.

There is simply no substitute for the face-to-face communication of a convention. The convention is not merely about rah-rah-ing, or even voting, it is about meeting other people in your party, sharing ideas, learning about what more you can do. None of this works well online, for most people. It's simply infeasible.