Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Primary Education

In spite of the fact that the primary process is not over, it appears that it is.  President Obama after all, was running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, proving once again what George Ade said long ago that, "Anybody can win unless there happens to be a second entry".  In spite of a marginal approval rating and less than marginal economy, President Obama will easily receive his party's nomination to run for a second term.

After the initial assumption by Republicans that no one could beat Mitt Romney for his party's nomination, one that was proved false on more than one occasion, he now appears to be the last man standing in process that proved only slightly more entertaining than the Rosie O'Donnell Show (which the Oprah Network recently cancelled). While Romney hasn't got the delegate count required to officially end the process, even his most ardent detractors are all but conceding his victory, and beginning to fall in line in order to present a united front in time for the convention. 

Looking back at what's gone on so far however, the glaring questions in my mind aren't about the candidates (whose real test is yet before them), but about the primary process itself.  

We might start for example with the insistence on the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire to kick off the process individually, in spite of a complete lack of credible reasoning to continue this archaic process. Other than drawing attention to states which nothing else normally does, there's no logical reason to allow it to go on.  

Immediately following, we can add in the constant shuffling of primary dates by states across the rest of the country hoping to make their own relevant.  In spite of constant threats by national parties of sanctions for doing so, this never-ending 'me first' attitude has done nothing but drag the process out.  (Isn't it amazing that this infighting doesn't make us question whether political parties who cannot seem to control their memberships are capable of accepting the leadership of a nation?)

Isn't it in fact curious that at a time when so many claim that the big problem with politics today is the money involved, they insist on a long primary process that's as much proof of a candidates ability to raise money as it is to raise the enthusiasm of his own parties political base?  Of course, we're told that as the process continues, we learn more about each candidate.  Bullshit!  All that happens over time is the candidates manage to smooth the rough edges off of stump speeches they'll eventually need in the actual election, while likewise learning to tailor them to individual audiences across the country.

Why must this process (like every other in politics) favor incumbent candidates, who either don't have to compete or spend from their war chests or have money left over from previous efforts?  Why can't this process be about the best people expressing the brightest ideas, regardless of when they hit the national stage?  Why can't those ideas be ones that they've long held and which persuaded them to run for office in the first place, instead of ones that they're only now recognizing as they "travel all across this great land of ours, talking to hard-working American people"

Why can't we learn from past mistakes and successes in this process?  So let's take this as an educational example of potential improvement.

Why can't we start the process on April 16, the day after the American voter truly learns what the price of democracy is (more on that later)?  It certainly seems a fitting date.  We can begin with three or four debates to give an understanding of each candidate's principles, and start the actual voting process in the middle of May.

We could then run five "Super Tuesdays" of ten states each; two weeks apart (and if Iowa and New Hampshire insist on being in the first group, that's  OK with me).  Interspersed with these primary groupings, four additional debates could be held if requested or required by circumstances.  The entire process would be over in ten weeks, and still allow Parties to hold nominating conventions in plenty of time for the election. 

Such a concentrated process would make many more of these primaries meaningful, coming as close together as they would.  They would also have the intended consequence that the process would no longer be one of who could raise enough money to last out an admittedly overlong process, but whose core principles would stand up best in this concentrated marketplace of ideas.

While were at it, why not eliminate the ones like Missouri's; which while it allows a popular vote, only allows one that has nothing to do with picking delegates or nominating a candidate.  If these states wish to hold primaries, the least that they can do for voters is to keep them from being a meaningless sham.  

Perhaps most importantly, by changing and concentrating the process, we can make the political parties themselves pay for some portion (if not all) of these private beauty contests.  I can find nothing in the Constitution which mandates the need for political parties, and nothing that therefore requires that the taxpayers of the states holding them foot the bill.  

One could (and perhaps even should) therefore demand that if taxpayers must in fact pay for any part of this party process, that all primaries be open ones in which voters are allowed a ballot regardless of prior party affiliation (or lack thereof).  It seems a violation of voting rights and a particularly egregious offense that Republicans and Democrats are capable of billing the American people for their private processes, and then refusing them the right to participate in them.

Listen, Democracy is never perfect; and even the Founding Fathers recognized the dangers of the representative republic they were creating.  Forming political parties in fact, was something that they did reluctantly.  None of what has become the primary process however, is defined or mandated in the language of the document that created this government.  

It's up to us to do what we can therefore, to see that we get the best possible candidates that we can to hand over the limited reins and responsibilities for the highest office in the land (and those of the legislature).  There's a lot about the twisted path that we find ourselves on that will be difficult to straighten out, perhaps cleaning up the primary process however could be seen as a truly 'shovel ready project'.  


Roland Hansen said...

Let's eliminate all Presidential primaries return the real power back to the Electoral College. And, while we are at it, let's repeal the 17th Amendment (ref: )

Timothy W Higgins said...

There are many things to recommend both suggestions mi Amigo (and some not to), though I fear it's as likely as returning currency to the Gold Standard.