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Editor's Weekly: Off-script insights from Democrats and Republicans

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 7, 2012 - Dear Beaconites - Taken at face value, this year's political conventions offered little more than  tales the presidential candidates wished to share. But even a tightly managed script conveys unintended messages; even a gathering of true believers reveals fissures among the faithful.

Beacon reporters Jo Mannies in Charlotte and Rob Koenig in Tampa caught these moments of inadvertent insight. They reported also on how Missouri's delegates and dilemmas compare to the national narrative. Here are some interesting themes their coverage revealed.

-- Both parties face demographic double binds. The Democratic version was apparent on Wednesday, when Attorney General Chris Koster warned fellow Missouri Democrats about the need to attract working-class voters. Earlier, Jo reported on the sore feelings of Missouri labor leaders, who are miffed that Democrats chose to meet in a right-to-work state and then neglected to highlight labor on Labor Day.

Koster was talking about Missouri, Jo noted, but most of his comments match what political analysts say nationally. White male voters trend Republican. Women and minorities trend Democratic. Neither party can build its future without appealing beyond their current bases of support. For both parties, some of the very issues that energize the base turn off the constituencies they need to cultivate.

-- Who didn't attend the conventions was as interesting as who did. Gov. Jay Nixon dropped by Charlotte and addressed the Missouri delegation, but without mentioning Obama's name. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter four years ago, was too busy to join the party this year.

A no-show at the Republican convention, for different reasons, was McCaskill's opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood. He was shunned by Republican leaders eager to put a lid on the controversy surrounding his "legitimate rape" remark. They did not welcome his drawing attention to the issue, even though many share his anti-abortion position.

In other words, members of both parties seemed reluctant to own up to some aspects of what their parties actually stand for.

-- The parties seem to have switched strategies in the culture wars. Democrats, while mobilizing a defense of Obama's economic policies, highlighted their support for abortion rights, gay marriage, immigration reform and so on. Republicans highlighted jobs and the economy while minimizing attention to the social issues that they have previously used to rally their base.

Finally, thankfully, the conventions revealed that unpredictability outlasts even the most meticulous efforts at control. Just ask Clint Eastwood about that.

Political conventions are widely dismissed these days as stale rituals, devoid of honest debate or actual decisions. True enough. Yet, seen through the right lens, the stylized portrait the parties intend to present gives way to candid snapshots that reveal discrepancies between image and reality. Thanks to perceptive work from Jo and Rob, Beacon readers gained more knowledge from this year's conventions than the parties intended to share.