The National Tea Party Convention being held this week in Nashville, sponsored by the Tea Party Nation group run by Tennessee traffic law attorney Judson Phillips, has been calling its 600 convention attendees "delegates." If you've been following media coverage of this event, you may have seen news organizations (outside of Fox) printing the term in scare quotes as I just did, or referring to the Tea Party attendees as "so-called delegates." Why?
As a former delegate to the 2008 Missouri Democratic Convention, I can tell you exactly why.
Here is the Merriam Webster dictionary definition of the verb, to delegate:
1 : to entrust to another <delegate authority>
2 : to appoint as one's representative
At a traditional political convention, whether at the state or national level, the delegates in attendance have been entrusted with the authority to represent other members of the party. Though the selection process for political convention delegates varies from party to party and state to state — some convention delegates (like the Democratic Party's superdelegates) are appointed by party officials at the national, state, or local level; some are actually elected by party members at local meetings held before the convention takes place — the position of delegate is meant to be a representative one. As in, delegates undertake their duties with the explicit understanding that they have been invited to a convention not to represent their own personal interests, but to represent the interests of a group — the interests of their city or township, for example, or, at the national level, the interests of their state.