Monday, May 7, 2007

A Big Step in the Wrong Direction

The news is, "Earlier is Better," in the world of politics. As the epidemic of early primaries continues to infect more and more states, we get further and further from ever again having a president that can be the leader we need for the time we need. New Hampshire, of course, wants to continue to be the first, and from articles today, we find that the NH primary may end up being this year. Florida has tried to upstage South Carolina by scheduling its primary for the same date, and SC is responding by considering moving its date as well, perhaps also putting its primary in 2007. I haven't heard from the Iowa Caucus people yet, but can they be far behind?

What does this mean to us? I've already written extensively about the damage that the primary system has done to our ability to elect a good president, and invite you to read those earlier entries. Said simply, primaries raise the cost of running for the presidency, they take the candidate away from real life and put him/her on a "road show," and by moving from state to state as the press follows the crusade. The result is a general growth in vagueness of the candidate's platform, prompted by the desire to please each voter in each state of each primary. In trying to be "all things to all people," the candidate compromises himself/herself and backs away from issues of conscience and integrity. Consequently, we can hear Hilary acting like Rosie O'Donnell in New York, and then hear her quoting scripture and using a southern drawl in Alabama. Who is the real Hilary? Will we ever see her? Probably not.

In the classic concept of the political convention, some candidates would have "risen to the top" by campaigning in some -- not all -- primaries, non-binding, by the way. The delegates then would have a general idea of "who's hot and who's not," but no one would have a lock. It is in the heat and smoke of a hot August convention that a candidacy is forged, and real presidential material emerges. Sometimes, the winning candidate is a dark horse who has never won a primary. That's the way it's supposed to be.

So, it's bad enough that primaries have become binding and obligatory. It's bad enough that conventions are now coronations where the candidate with the biggest organization, the most money, and the best press has wiggled to the top. What could be worse? Moving them to earlier dates! What little struggle for excellence was left -- a hot summer full of personal contacts and campaigning -- is gone. What we have left is fund-raising, photo ops, and continual posturing. When it's over (and, for all practical purposes, it will be over before February is, and we will be left with over eight months of campaigning. The candidates of the major parties will be obvious. Instead of the desperate August-November run (usually about nine weeks), we have about 35 weeks to fill with mud-slinging, accusations, and general dirt. If the candidates are governors, senators, or representatives, some states will be left with absentee representation. Let's be honest there are only so many things you can do in a presidential campaign, and none of those things are very productive or conducive to strengthening our republic. In all honesty, a political campaign is a depressing period of negativism and pessimism, only occasionally broken up by an orchestrated "rally" where we can sing "Happy Days Are Here Again," but not really mean it.

Now I'm hearing that at least one party is considering moving the national convention to an earlier date. This will mean that even the cookie-cutter platforms will be in place earlier, depriving candidates of even more issues that should be in a campaign. There will be less individuality; instead, major candidates will be singing the party line.

Simply put, 2008 looks to be a boring, disgusting, useless election year. By January 1, the mud will already be flying; when we're supposed to be enjoying bowl games (which, curiously, are also moving in the wrong direction, timewise), we are hearing campaigning. An activity that was made for hot summer days, band boxes, corn on the cob, and fireworks, will instead be indoors in heated buildings as blizzards rage outside.

What can we do? I don't know, but I'm looking for an answer. We need to diminish the power of primaries, and keep the suspense of which candidate will emerge for the conventions. Put the conventions in the Dog Days of August, and turn the air conditioning up to 80 degrees. Just following these simple suggestions would give us a seedbed to spawn a candidacy that would make our hearts beat with excitement again. Wouldn't it be nice to vote for someone, instead of voting against the "other guy," like we've been doing for nearly 20 years now?

Oh, one more thing. Stop letting the IRS send 3 dollars per person to an "election fund." Make the candidates do something else. Do you really want the government funding presidential campaigns? That may be one reason why they're in the sad state they're in right now.

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