Saturday, November 03, 2007

Smoked Filled Back Primaries

During a political progressive period at the turn of the previous century, the idea of the major parties' presidential nominations being chosen by a few power brokers and party bosses in "smoked filled back rooms" was considered undemocratic and the statewide primaries were born or at least taken up by progressives as a means for people to seize the political nominating process. It seemed a novel experiment in Americana but by the middle of the previous century, politicians and their strategists realized they could win enough delegates in primaries prior to the convention to hold their parties nomination out right or be significantly on the way to the point of being able to dictate terms to the parties' power elite.

But no good intention, no matter how sincere the intent, goes untainted when politics are concerned. Just as in today’s attempt to reform campaign financing, there is too much power and too much money at stake for it not to be corrupted. I don’t mean today’s primary system is corrupted as in the criminal sense, but corrupted as to its democratic ideal. A few primaries determine who the rest of us will get to vote for. Today's first primaries filter the political field leaving the rest of us with who they liked. A candidate that would do well nationally – but may not have a chance in the region of the first primaries – is not available for the majority of Americans to choose one way or the other.

On the flip side, early primaries may choose someone who doesn't have a chance nationally. John Kerry and Michael Dukakis won New Hampshire, their parties' nomination, and did terrible in the general election. They're both New Englanders which gave them an advantage in New Hampshire. Many pundits thought anybody could beat Bush in 2004, but they hadn't counted on Kerry's ineptitude or Karl Roves' spinmaster abilities.

New Hampshire likes to brag about being the first primary. They have made their state laws so no matter when another states has their primary, New Hampshire’s will automatically be a week earlier. The early primaries are no different than the power brokers of old who didn’t want to give up their power in those “smoke filled back rooms” in choosing the next president, or at least the next nominee, and will do whatever they can to keep power. I wouldn’t be surprise if the 2012 first primary vote is the day after the 2009 inauguration.

This is especially noticeable with the coming 2008 election. Rarely do we get such a large group of candidates from which to choose, and yet, most of us will get to vote for only two or three top runners in each party. How is the winnowing to a few candidates different than party bosses selecting the next nominee in "smoked filled back rooms"?

What would the political arena be like if we all got to vote on the current gang of candidates running for their parities' nomination? What if they had all primaries on the same day? Political wonks would have to re-think the whole campaign process. Like the beginning of the primary selection process at the turn of the previous century, old school strategist would be at a loss and innovators would have the advantage. Political junkies like myself would have a reality TV show like no other.

Given my rule above about there being too much power and too much money at stake in who is president for any selection process to go uncorrupted, how long would it go before the noble idea of same-day primaries becomes tarnished?

And thus we end on a cynical note.
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