Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Mess Called Political Conventions

This year of 1012 is a Sticky Wicket of a political year

Who has not noted the idiocy of the television “news” channels as they traipse around the country reporting and speculating on the Republican Party primaries.

There was a time when these events were noted locally but not as if viewers were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the latest count; the latest flub; latest gossip and latest guess by the talking heads.

That was back in the days when the two major political parties held meaningful summer conventions to select a nominee for president. It was a suspenseful occasion as nomination speeches were both oratorical and sometimes even interesting. There would often be a ‘favorite son” emerged from the floor.

People like Chicago Mayor Daily and his fellow Democrat cohorts would scrounge through the delegates for votes for their favorite. Or make deals that would enhance their agenda. Ballots were taken until it was narrowed down to one person.

Today’s ever-present primaries and caucuses, including the big political conventions, were not always the way these things were done.

Going back even before my time, in the early days presidential candidates were chosen or nominated by members of Congress. But this early system of picking nominees became less popular when a fellow named Andrew Jackson launched his ‘appeal to the common man.’

After Jackson's election in 1828, party structures strengthened, and the idea of national political conventions began to make sense. At that time there had been party conventions held at the state level, but no national conventions.

The first nation-wide political convention gathering was by a now defunct party – the Anti-Masonic Party in 1831. As the name suggests, the Masonic Order was thought to have too much influence in the capital.

They were successful only in starting the ball rolling for national party conventions. Jackson’s administration (1829-1837) was considered one of the most corrupt in history. It was not really all that different from many White House administrations before or since. In one form or another power of position has always brought out the worst in leaders.

Wanting to rid the country of Jackson, the Republican Party called for a national convention in the city of Baltimore in 1831. They became an anti-Jackson party much like today’s anti-Obama party. Henry Clay was the Republican nominee.
The Democratic Convention held their first-ever such meeting, also in Baltimore, in 1832. Jackson was running for a second term so they only nominated a candidate for vice president, Martin Van Buren.

Other parties came on the scene in the 19th and 20th centuries but soon fell by the wayside leaving the race for power with just the Democratic and Republican parties.

There was the Nullifier Party (against everything), the Liberty Party, the Free Soil Party (farmers ?), the American Party, the Opposition Party (opposed to new states having slavery), the Constitutional Union Party, the Readjuster Party (following Civil War they aspired to break the power of wealth and established privilege. Hasn’t worked yet.).

Then the Vegetarian Party, the American Nazi Party (not too popular, 1959-1967), Looking Back Party (not much future), and the Christian Freedom Party (a spoiler for the John Kerry and George W. Bush campaigns.)

The Prohibition Party was the oldest third party to have a life in the United States. They were an outgrowth of the temperance movement. The Prohibition Party was an important force during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 they have advocated numerous socially conservative causes.

The year 2012 is one ‘sticky wicket’ of a year and not just on the cricket pitch.

Therefore between now and November here are my suggestions: turn off the TV set (except for March Madness, the World Series, some football, cricket and soccer); even better, join a book club, visit the city library or buy a Kindle; get a bicycle or take a hike.


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