Home Commentary What Livestock Shows and Political Conventions Have in Common

What Livestock Shows and Political Conventions Have in Common


Recently, while sitting in the bleachers watching the Supreme Showmanship competition at the Boone County Fair, my phone kept buzzing with tweets and news from the Democratic National Convention.  About half way through the competition, I think when they brought the sheep in, it occurred to me how much what was happening in the show ring mirrored what was happening in Philadelphia.

I think it was how the sound the sheep were making seamed to sound remarkably like what was coming from the DNC podium. A discordant retching sound that spoke of injustice and unhappiness. And, like the sounds from the ring and the DNC, it went on and on and on.

The more I considered this, the more I realized how the goals of a livestock show are similar to the goals of a political convention.  Especially in showmanship competition, the goal is to maintain control of the animal and to get it to present itself well to the judge.  This year in particular, this was the goal of both political conventions.  At the RNC, the goal was to line up all the delegates behind Donald Trump. Likewise, at the DNC, the goal was to get everyone in line behind Hillary Clinton. But, like at most livestock shows, there is always at least one animal that does not cooperate. At the RNC is was Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Mr. Trump. At the DNC, it was the Bernie Sanders supporters, who would not sit down and be quiet.

The job of a showman at a livestock show is to present the animal to the judge in the most favorable way. To position the animals head, feet, rump, and other body parts in such a way to make them look the most attractive. This is called spin at political conventions. At the RNC, Mike Pence had the task of positioning Donald Trump as someone that conservative, evangelical, tea party voters could trust. At the DNC, it was the media who controlled the spin by only reporting on positive Hillary events and going as far as blaming the Russians for Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail issues.

At the end of a livestock show, there is typically some manure in the ring which has been left there by the animals who dumped a load of crap. The same can be said for what is left over from a political convention –most of which will be fertilizer for the rest of the campaign.

As a livestock show concludes, there is that moment of drama as the judge walks down the line of competitors and the audience holds its breath in anticipation of who will be selected as the winner.  This is what political conventions used to be like.  Today, however, they are minutely-scripted media productions with the outcome known well in advance.   This is why I found my time at the livestock show a much better investment than staying home and watching a political convention.

By Gary Truitt