Midwest Voices

Present-day political conventions fail our nation

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke last month at a campaign rally at High Point University in High Point, N.C.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke last month at a campaign rally at High Point University in High Point, N.C. The Associated Press

The first presidential election I recall was 1952.

Dwight Eisenhower ran against Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson. I was only 7 years old, so all I remember was Eisenhower had been in the Army, and Stevenson had a hole in the bottom of his shoe. We “watched” them speak on the radio (we didn’t own a TV yet), so I never learned to spell “Adlai” until four years later when he ran a second time against Ike and lost that time, too.

Watching the acrimony between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton has been discouraging and painful for many of us. If you’re under 60 years of age and don’t remember elections in the 1960s you have to be thinking, “Surely there must be a better way!”

Well, there used to be. They were called national conventions, and both parties held them every four years just a few months prior to the November election. The party faithful gathered in some big city, locked the doors and asked each other, “Who do we have in here who can win the White House in November?”

In the months leading up to their national conventions, Democrats and Republicans held statewide meetings to select delegates to their party’s national convention. Other than the media, only the likely candidates, party faithful and a few bigwigs were allowed to attend. As the occasional “third party” movement developed over the years, they held their own conventions. It’s worth mentioning here that historically the role played by third parties in our system (such as the Libertarians, Greens and Independents) often has been that of spoiler.

You only have to look back at the 1992 election that pitted Republican President George H.W. Bush running for a second term against Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. The third-party candidate that year, independent Ross Perot, took 19 percent of the popular vote. As recently as 2012, Bush blamed Perot for his defeat.

After a thorough vetting of each candidate in a “smoke-filled room,” each party’s presidential nominee was selected by delegate vote at their national conventions. The nominees selected their vice presidential running mates, and we were off to the races.

The election season really only lasted about four months in those days — from July to the second Tuesday in November. Then came the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.

Young people — mostly college students — came from around the country to protest the Vietnam War and the party’s process of selecting its presidential candidate. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daly ordered the police to disperse the demonstrators.

The street battles that followed embarrassed the Democrats and emboldened many onlookers to demand a role in the selection of presidential candidates. That pressure led to the weaker national parties and the rising importance of state primaries that we have today.

While the political parties still hold their quadrennial national conventions, they are now little more than coronation ceremonies, as the candidates will have already been chosen by the results of the state party primaries. Perhaps the Democrats and Republicans will learn from this election cycle and temper the power of the primaries and eliminate the role of “superdelegates.”

Perhaps they’ll nominate better candidates than Clinton and Trump. Perhaps the conventions will nominate qualified, experienced candidates with visible moral and ethical compasses.

We deserve much better, and they can do much better. We’re waiting.

Michael L. Pandzik of Shawnee was the founding president and CEO of the National Cable Television Cooperative, headquartered in Lenexa. He is also a retired captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He can be reached at michaelpandzik@