The Season of Madness
Sometimes I try to imagine what it is like to be a candidate for President: the schedule, the speeches, no time for reflection or real thought. You have your handlers, your pollsters, your speechwriters. Move here. Say this. Do you have time to listen to people with contrarian points of view? Do you really know what you believe? Do you tailor your beliefs to just the few states that count?
John Dean, in an excellent overview of the nomination process, describes the madness at the heart of the process:
This year, some thirty-four states will determine their presidential nominee before March 1; in 2000, by comparison, only eleven states took such action so early. Everything has been front-loaded and compressed. The process may well exhaust the candidates, not to mention the voters. Given the current system, moreover, few Americans will actually interact with the candidates before the process has ended
Both major parties’ inability to fix this fundamental problem should call into question their ability to govern. It is a very bad sign that a matter as basic as nominating presidential candidates has been turned into a contest of money-raising and organization. Such a contest surely does not translate into effective governing (as Bush and Cheney have proven).
The sad truth is that political parties care little about American voters and the democratic processes. One needs to look no further than the insane primary schedule for 2008.
It is an awful schedule. It is based on the whims and greed of state legislatures and state and national party officials. It is has no basis in logic or reason. It creates all but impossible logistical problems for candidates. It increases campaigning costs, forcing candidates to rely on large campaign donors. A few small states benefit, at the expense of everyone else, and it is anything but conducive to finding candidates most suitable to become President of the United States.
Dean has his own proposal: “rotating regional primaries.”
This approach would divide the country into (typically, in proposals) four or six regions. The states within those regions would then all hold their primary or caucus at the same time, with the election in each of the regions staggered over the first four or six months of a presidential election year. (A few of the reform proposals have made exceptions for Iowa and New Hampshire, to also allow them to continue as the first in the nation, but such an exception makes no sense, nor does giving these states such disproportionate influence, which forcing candidates to spend millions to court smaller sets of voters.)
Unfortunately, we address the problem only when we are in the midst of it. I tend to agree with his comment that the “major parties’ ability to fix this fundamental problem should call into question their ability to govern.”