Or, who is Mitt Romney? That’s the question of the week, and this is the week it’s due to get answered.

The Republican convention opened Monday, sort of.

The truncated 2012 Republican convention gets underway in earnest Tuesday, delayed by a storm threat and distracted by fears of a hurricane aiming at the northern Gulf Coast…

There is a risk of seeming tone deaf “if the rest of the county is riveted on any kind of horrific weather event,” Republican strategist Rick Davis [said].

It was a cautious start to an uncertain week. But the fact that it was scheduled to be four days in the first place, with the Democrats by necessity already shortening their convention next week to three days, calls this historical event into question, and rightfully so.

“These are very expensive propositions to put on,” [House Speaker John] Boehner said at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think, given as much news as people get today and the way they get their news, I’m not sure having a four-day convention in the future makes a lot of sense.”

It doesn’t even make a little sense. Political campaigns have become mind-bogglingly expensive with gargantuan spending on saturation campaigns and way too much time spent by candidates on fundraising instead of more important matters, like governing (the incumbant) or policy formation and coalition building (the challenger). And all in the age when we do have near total and constant access to information on the candidates. As well as an inter-generational crushing debt requiring austerity measures all around.

Anyway, thus began the GOP convention week, and it will be interesting to see how coverage goes when the Democrats open theirs next week.

For example, and here’s just one, if media ask for more revelation on a candidate’s worldview and its evolution – very fair question – they should ask the same for both party’s candidates.

So, Mitt, what do you really believe?
Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious

That’s just the headline and sub-head of the Economist Leader piece this week. Which makes one wonder…did they ask those very questions of candidate Barack Obama in 2008? Would they dare ask it now?

We want to know all about both men who seek to lead this nation and influence the world over the next four, consequential years.

WSJ picks up the question.

The leader Republicans will nominate for president this week is a man of many paradoxes, a figure well known yet not entirely understood, someone who has been examined for two full presidential campaigns but whose personal beliefs remain the subject of intense debate.

The only part of that sentence that differs from the other candidate is the party designation. No wait…the other part is the “someone who has been examined” description. Because the president never was, though the rest applies.

My Monday radio show, on the sort-of opening day of the GOP convention, anticipating the Democratic convention next week, reflected on the meaning of it all in this day of instant and near-global information access, and whether folks are tuned in after all.

But this AP piece captures it well, I think. At least right now, at this point in time.

The conventions are made for TV. But that means made for all to see, across America and even the world. And the audience now gets to talk back, drafting its own instant platform via Twitter and Facebook and all our other electronic impulses.

The conventions are taxpayer-subsidized political commercials. But if they were only that, few would watch. We’ve seen too many mean ads already. By now most voters have made up their minds about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, anyway.

At their best, every four years, these mud-slinging, self-serving, partisan-by-definition displays rise to offer something more: moments that transcend politics.

Together, the two conventions make up a national stock-taking, a pause to remember our roots, figure out who we are and decide what’s truly important, without feeling too hokey about it. Like a virtual family reunion, Americans gather around their televisions, computers or smartphones to argue or agree, celebrate the good stuff, mourn our losses and regret our mistakes, to regroup, to look ahead.

The conventions are Barbara Jordan, Jesse Jackson and Obama, their very presence on the podium insisting that the American dream no longer be deferred. And Ferraro and Sarah Palin and Hillary Rodham Clinton, bursting through doors once locked to them.

They are the thousands of Vietnam War protesters chanting outside the 1968 Democratic meeting, who couldn’t be silenced by the tear gas and billy clubs of the Chicago police.

They are Robert Kennedy eulogizing the slain president who was also his big brother Jack. Nancy Reagan telling America that its Great Communicator is being hushed by Alzheimer’s. Mary Fisher pleading with the nation to come to its senses and find its compassion so her children wouldn’t feel ashamed someday to say out loud their mother died of AIDS.

Every four years, the political conventions come along to remind us how wrong we were about some things in the past. And that we know nothing, really, about what’s to come.

It’s no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a genius at wielding metaphor, chose to speak at the 1976 GOP convention about what he would write in a time capsule letter to the future.

The conventions are time capsules, lovingly created and then buried in the rush to Election Day.

Dig through past conventions, their speeches and platforms, and you’ll find a record not just of Americans’ politics but also of their worries and fears, longings and dreams. Not just how the parties gave us Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But also how passion to do something about slavery and civil rights and women’s rights and poverty percolated up from the people and into the convention halls and the White House.

This year’s speakers will talk about gay marriage, religious freedom, women’s health, the national debt, joblessness. And someone may say something in a way that sticks in the national consciousness and helps build a consensus that one day, in hindsight, will seem blazingly obvious.

Conventions are far from perfect. Too much of their time is wasted on things parochial and elitist and just silly. Not much has changed since Bob Dole summed up the GOP event of 1980: “The introducers spoke longer than the speakers. And the speakers spoke too long.”

But what else have we got? Self-consciously triumphant inaugurals, ponderous State of the Union speeches. Debates promise some spontaneity, but they’re too narrow, focused only on four candidates.

The conventions are a political Olympics, democracy as spectator sport: Score the best efforts of mayors and governors and senators who might be president someday. Catch those candidates and insiders who claim to hate Washington and loathe politics openly reveling in the raucous, strapping national debate, whatever they prefer to call it. Watch regular folks still willing to turn out, in silly hats and buttons, to cheer for something they believe in.

Well said. True, and well said.

I hope and pray the tropical storm somehow deflects or dissolves and spares lives and property, first and foremost. And then the raucous and rousing experiences of the party conventions get fully underway. Let the competition of two very different visions for America proceed.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....