Will the upcoming national conventions be snoozers, or will they actually offer some degree of excitement?
Over the last half century, these events have come to lack the suspense that accompanied them back in the days before state primaries wrested the power to choose party nominees from convention delegates and party officials.
Now, national conventions are largely an excuse for companies and party leaders to throw parties for delegates to attend, to network and have a good time. Beyond that, these quadrennial rituals are little more than pulpits from which each side takes shots at the other; and a forum to repeat why each had already selected the nominees it had for president and vice president.
Occasionally, however, these events provide rising stars the chance to have a moment on the national stage. The last two Democratic presidents benefitted immensely from the exposure gained from enjoying a prime-time speaking spot at their Party's national convention.
Bill Clinton's 1988 overly-long speech to his Party's conventioneers and the national TV audience -- while in many respects a less-then-stellar performance -- did introduce to the entire country this virtually unknown governor from a small, theretofore unimportant state. Without that opportunity, it is highly unlikely Clinton would have been able to successfully win his Party's nomination four years later.
History does indeed repeat itself. In 2004, a young, but still largely anonymous Illinois state Senator named Barack Obama was given a primetime speaking slot during the Democratic National Convention. He used the opportunity thus afforded him wisely. By the end of that year, he was elected to serve as a United States Senator, and a mere four years later he was sworn in as President of the United States.
Yet, for every Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, there are dozens of presidential wannabes who jockey for speaking slots at their national conventions, and from who little is heard in the months and years thereafter. Will things be different this year? Will the 2012 national conventions turn out to be blasts from the past or springboards to the future; echoes of the past or visions of the future?