DENVER — If you ever have the chance to attend a national political convention — even if it is only to stand around outside the arena — you should do it.

For all the talk about how these conventions are too expensive, not really needed and without suspense, I believe they still are worthy — and newsworthy.

The hard truth is that for the foreseeable future, our presidents will be picked from either the Democratic or Republican parties.

And at the national conventions Americans see inside that nomination process.

For those actually in these halls, the excitement, passion and patriotism are real — not just a show.

The United States of America certainly has its problems.

And our political systems do need reform (like doing away with the Electoral College — or at least doing away with the winner-take-all college votes by states and go to a popular-vote formula for distributing those college votes).

Still, after one of these conventions I'm guessing most participants come away seeing that this really is a great country.

It's a place where good men like Barack Obama and John McCain can work hard and make a real contribution with their lives.

As McCain sat in that North Vietnam prison, would he have ever guessed that he would be a presidential nominee?

And do you think that Obama, as a child of color with a single mom, aspired to where he is now?

I'm not getting all choked up here. U.S. leaders have made some huge mistakes over the years. And even as the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, we still have large holes in our social "safety nets" — too many poor, hungry, uneducated and despairing among us.

But we still come together every two or four years to vote. And by far we give most of our citizens the chance to pick their own leaders.

Yes, sometimes many don't vote, and sometimes we don't seem to pick the best candidates, and sometimes those we elect do let us down.

Still, these conventions, which I've attended since 1988, provide a time for political and citizen renewal.

Few of us spend our lives in politics. The closest most get is watching a few debates, reading some campaign materials in the mail, reading a few newspaper stories and maybe watching some convention speeches on TV.

And voting — that's the most important part.

You've heard the sayings: Democracy requires participation. You get the government you elect. And if you don't vote, you get the government you deserve.

So, pay some attention this year — there are only a few months until Election Day.

And if you get the chance to attend a national political convention, do it.

You'll get enthused about politics, I promise. And that can only be a good thing.

Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]