AH, DEMOCRACY! It ranges from enlightenment and open-mindedness to paranoia and hatred.
What can we expect over the next two weeks, with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland followed by the Democratic National Convention here?
If history foretells, both the best and the worst. At each convention.
Historic reporter H.L. Mencken once described it like this:
"A national convention is as fascinating as a revival or a hanging. It is vulgar, ugly, stupid and tedious, to be sure, and yet there suddenly comes a show so gaudy and hilarious, so melodramatic and obscene, so unimaginably exhilarating and preposterous that one lives a gorgeous year in an hour."
There can't possibly be a better lesson for students. Luckily, every four years Penn's Annenberg School for Communication offers a class called "Conventions, Debates, and Campaigns," which brings them to the quadrennial confabs to experience history. Leading them is Penn professor D. David Eisenhower.
Eisenhower doesn't just teach history. He is history. He is the grandson of the nation's 34th president (Dwight D. Eisenhower) and son-in-law of the nation's 37th (Richard Nixon) after marrying Nixon's daughter, Julie.
Ever hear of Camp David, every president's official vacation spot? Named for the prof, back when he was grandpop Ike's tyke.
Despite the lack of love in today's presidential race, Eisenhower looks forward to the conventions, the best possible study halls on democracy.
"Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a pretty good [analysis]," Eisenhower said. "He said essential democracy is free elections and free press, not who's running for president."
One of Eisenhower's former students is Frank Luntz, now a Republican consultant whose TV news work landed him a job in a 2012 romance movie called, "True Bromance."
Several of the 13 Penn students going on this year's trips could be Luntzes of the future, on the side of either party.
What might they learn? How about middle-class America's worst enemy: the economy.
Sophomore James Hiebert wonders how the hot issues - immigration, race, gun deaths, international trade deals - will be mixed into economic debate.
All are affected by it. As Eisenhower notes, economic growth for the middle class and lower has been stalled since the late 1970s because of industrial jobs disappearing. People turned optimistic when the inflation was stopped under Ronald Reagan, but what grew was the gap between the rich and everyone else.
"We had significant inequality in the late 19th century and it became a big issue," Eisenhower said. "Can see that now."
What's the solution? Donald Trump says trade. Get rid of bad deals with foreign countries and stop illegal immigrants from taking jobs. That will raise salaries at home.
Hillary Clinton boosts inclusion. Training poor folks to provide more talent and force billionaire company owners to pay employees better.
One necessity for democracy: Compromise. Pols in both parties have been carving districts into closed-minded places where only one side rules. Some of them have promised they'll never compromise.
That puts folks in opposition to the founding principles of U.S. democracy. The folks who created the Constitution argued, disagreed and, in the end, compromised.
Every president does compromise, or tries to. A marvelous method has been described by Eisenhower, who observed how his Republican grandpa president dealt with Democratic congressional leadership.
President Ike would be railing against the Dems blocking his legislation in Congress. Senate leader Lyndon Baines Johnson and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn railed against Ike's wrongheaded proposals.
That was for the media and constituents. Here's what was happening secretly, as written about by David Eisenhower:
After Congress adjourned for the day, LBJ and Rayburn were often driven to the White House, out of sight through the secluded southwest entrance. They'd be escorted to the president's family's quarters.
"There, over drinks , they'd discuss current issues and they'd work informal bipartisan strategies for first-string public policy. [They] were political partisans for two different parties, but they always put country first and party second."
Imagine that. Perhaps Penn's Ike and his tykes should see where the delegates stand on the bipartisan bourbon issue.
Gar Joseph, retired assistant managing editor of the Daily News, has an edgy outlook and a fondness for horse racing. He edited the series "Tainted Justice," which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A walkout? It wouldn’t be first time
Could either of this year's presidential conventions feature walkouts or virtual revolutions? There were four of them last century:
1912 Republican, Chicago. Teddy Roosevelt’s rupturing of the GOP by walking out and forming a third party “was actually very modern,” says Eisenhower. “Up until 1912, the convention was a group that drafted a contract, decided who they wanted as president, and then got him to sign the contract. Roosevelt and other progressive Republicans began setting up primaries for 1912.”
The party was predominant and TR lost (Democrat Woodrow Wilson won), but after 1912, thanks to TR, the party and the platform was shaped by the candidate.
1948 Democrat, Philadelphia. Another big walkout. “The Democrats broke up in 1948,” says Eisenhower. “This was a civil war within the party.” It was the South, over race.
The walkout by all of Mississippi and half of Alabama led to a J. Strom Thurmond-led third party that won four states in the South that fall. The once solid Democratic South drifted from third parties to the GOP by the 1980s.
1968 Democrat, Chicago. “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” Isn’t that a nice chant? Not if it showed hundreds of antiwar protesters being bashed repeatedly by Chicago cops who took off their badges to avoid identification.
The Democrats lost, partly because GOP’s Richard Nixon promised both to win the war in Vietnam and win the peace, Eisenhower notes. It didn’t help the Dems that George Wallace won five states in the South.
1976 Republican, Kansas City. Ronald Reagan came this close to taking the nomination away from incumbent Gerald Ford. Ford was making promise after promise to get enough delegates to win. Reagan made a wise decision, Eisenhower says, because he didn’t force Ford out and endorsed him immediately.
That made Reagan a slam-dunk for 1980 as far as the party was concerned and, while Ford lost, the 1980 race launched 12 years of GOP White House control.