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The Democratic and Republican National Committees

“It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting.” —Tom Stoppard

“There is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans” is a sentiment that has been expressed by persons on the political left and right. The accuracy of the statement is, of course, a matter of individual judgment and opinion. Those believing it to be true, however, will find evidence to support their view in the 2012 national conventions of both parties.

As a practical matter, the role of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in nominating their respective candidates for president has been reduced to a mere formality by the advent of the primary system. Delegates to both conventions are now largely selected through the state primaries based upon the candidate they intend to support. As a result, the party's nominee is decided months in advance of the “nominating” convention. However, the role of a convention delegate is not limited to selecting the party nominee. On a variety of questions, the delegates are called upon to vote, setting the party's direction on those matters for the next four years. At least that is what the Democratic and Republican National Committees (essentially the governing boards of the respective parties) would like us to believe.

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over a voice vote of convention delegates to determine whether references to God and the designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel should be restored to the party platform. The removal of those references earlier in the convention generated a great deal of public outcry causing the Democratic National Committee to fear a backlash in the upcoming presidential election. A two-thirds majority was required to restore the references. Villaraigosa's first call for a voice vote resulted in an indistinguishable difference between the “ayes” and the “nays.” After a second vote, when the delegates again appeared evenly divided, Villaraigosa consulted with a party official on stage. He then called for a third voice vote, resulting once again in an even split among the delegates. This time, however, Villaraigosa declared that the resolution had passed, essentially muzzling the voice votes of half the convention's delegates.

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, House Speaker John Boehner called for a voice vote to adopt new rules proposed by the campaign staff of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, and endorsed by the Republican National Committee. The changes would make it easier for establishment candidates to dominate future conventions. Many delegates, including those supporting candidate Ron Paul, opposed the changes. After ignoring the objections of several delegates, Boehner proceeded with the vote. As with the Democratic Convention, the crowd appeared equally split among the “ayes” and “nays.” Boehner nonetheless declared that the new rules had passed by the necessary margin. Amateur video footage later revealed that Boehner's teleprompter displayed the “result” of the voice vote seconds before the actual votes had been cast, suggesting that the outcome was pre-ordained by party leadership.

The major political parties are, of course, free to set the rules and procedures by which they run their national conventions. Yet encouraging delegates to speak out, only then to ignore what they say, is insulting both to the delegates and those watching from home. The Democratic and Republican National Committees apparently place a higher value on creating the appearance of open and free political discourse at their conventions than they do on actually engaging in such discourse. For their bipartisan action of ignoring the voices of half of the delegates at their respective conventions, a 2013 Jefferson Muzzle is awarded to the Democratic and Republican National Committees.

DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38

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