My undergraduate university is moderately well known for its “Mock Convention,” a quadrennial tradition dating back well over a century, in which students undertake to re-enact a political event that has not yet occurred. Not a rare undertaking, it is unique in its achievement: a perfect record of predicting the nominees.
Now in our era of Big Politics, such accurate prediction in March of the election year is well and truly No Big Deal, since by that stage in even the most hotly contested race, the convention is already pejoratively dubbed a “coronation”. But my college’s version dates back to when the process was truly up for grabs, and the result often, if not always, in dramatic doubt. Good, old-fashioned, honest politicking, face-to-face and often neither good nor honest, played out in those hot arenas to achieve the party’s nomination. My college’s accuracy dates back to those days of drama, and its reputation was solidified when it correctly predicted a particularly shocking nominee back in, oh, I think it was 1956.
Because time and resources are limited, only one party’s convention is staged: the party out of power. Back in my day, slightly after the ink dried on the Constitution, the Democrats were looking to prevent Ronald Reagan from achieving a second term. The student body of my college had fewer than average folks who could pass for actual Democrats, unless one included Southerners of that affiliation. That is not inappropriate, since it was a heavily Southern university. But the Mock Convention undertakes to reproduce the motivations and dynamics of the actual convention, not to be a vehicle for the political preferences of the student participants.
With much hue and cry, and the attendant parade and parties, the nod went to one Walter Mondale, who called to accept and congratulate us on our perspicacity. Even in March, there was not much doubt. Nobody was surprised when the same mild-mannered Mondale accepted the actual nomination at a much larger, but no more enthusiastic or carefully staged “real” convention, four or five months later.
We all knew that it was hard not to know the nominee, but it was fun anyway to re-enact what would be carefully choreographed rituals surrounding the nomination. That is how modern politics works, right? It may not have been a challenge, but perhaps it was a learning experience.
This year, I think eyes will be on the out-of-power party’s convention with an awareness, and for some a hope, that that its outcome is still uncertain. Have we moved “beyond” the predictability of modern politics, at least in one party? Or is this just one big (yuuuuge) personal anomaly? I went to my college’s web site to learn who had been the nominee of this year’s Mock Convention. At a time when there were still five or seven candidates vying for the privilege, the students’ carefully researched process produced a nomination that now, in July, seems “predictable.” But is it?
What was my role in the whole thing, back in the day? I was a reporter for the college radio station, WLUR-FM, even though my experience was as a classical music deejay. This year, I am again an observer, not a participant, and still very much an under-informed outsider about how such processes choose our leaders. Both parties’ conventions this year confirm my conviction that I am in the right line of work. The result of one is inescapable, the other indigestible. I prescribe a remedy: Let us pray.Monsignor Smith