The Democratic and Republican National Conventions shared quite a few things in common.
Both had a lot of soaring speeches and rhetoric about the future of the country. Both had a lot of talking points that were less than 100 percent accurate. And both featured tons of silly hats, pins, sunglasses, signs and shirts.
But one other shared feature shouldn’t have been at either convention: party leaders that felt it was appropriate to force their hand on key issues.
GOP officials proposed a rules change during their convention that would have given a presumptive nominee the ability to override a state’s delegate choices and replace them with delegates of their choosing.
This would have, in effect, stripped state and local parties of their power to send representatives of their choosing to the national convention and marginalized their voices. Grassroots activists were outraged, because this rule would have impacted their groups most heavily.
A mass effort to organize opposition to the proposed rules went forward, and party leaders backed off to achieve a “compromise” that was still not desirable.
When the issue was brought before the Rules Committee for a voice vote, it was very difficult to tell which side had the majority. House Speaker John Boehner, who conducted the voice vote, determined that the “ayes” had it amidst much shouting and booing from opponents.
To add insult to injury, the leader of the opposition to the rules, conservative activist Morton Blackwell, entirely missed the vote when the bus he was taking to the convention center “got lost” and did not arrive at the convention center in time for the vote.
What’s worse, recently released cell phone video of the teleprompter Boehner used during the vote suggests that the entire scenario was scripted from the beginning, a formality used to justify the rule change.
The DNC’s issue was arguably more public than that of the RNC. After the various committees hammered out their policy positions and the delegates approved what would finally be voted in as the Democrat Party platform, two major issues were quickly discovered by media outlets.
First, the party removed all references to God from their platform (it had had just one after the 2008 convention). Second, the party removed a statement affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Many liberal Christian, Jewish and pro-Israel delegates were stunned by this turn of events, and party leaders, including Senator Dick Durbin and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, argued to the press that the removal of God and the Jerusalem statement did not in any way lessen the party’s commitments to people of faith or to Israel. This argument, however, did not satisfy anyone.
The issue became so controversial that the original rules were brought back up for a vote to be returned to the platform, the claim being made that President Obama did in fact prefer the original language.
With convention rules calling for a 2/3 majority voice vote, convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa became visibly confused after the volumes of the “ayes” and the “nays” were almost indistinguishable from one another.
After two more tries calling the vote, it became clear that there was no way a 2/3 majority had been reached.
Villaraigosa said that the “ayes” had it anyway, thus violating party rules and overriding many in the party who had clearly wanted the new language â€” without God or Jerusalem mentioned â€” to stay in the platform.
Leaders in both parties acted indefensibly, undermining key constituencies by doing what they believed to be most politically favorable against their opponents. But there is a larger issue that both these cases represent: an establishment in each party that does not reliably respond to the will of their supporters.
People from both parties agree that this election will have far-reaching effects on the future of America.
So when party members are treated as they were here, like tools to be kept in order rather than human beings who want political representation, is it any wonder that they will face opposition?
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street both formed in response to what they felt to be the corruption and poor behavior of the establishment, and I have no doubt that these incidents will be remembered for years to come. I can only conclude that party leaders will have no choice but to respond more effectively to their base from this point onward. If actions like this continue, they will lose their own jobs in 2014 and 2016.
David Giffin is a second year Masters in Theological Studies student at Candler School of Theology from Charleston, Ill.