Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Two Demons

The 2008 Presidential primaries will be over early. With many states front-loading their primaries for February in an effort to be influential, both Republicans and Democrats should know who their candidates will be before much of the country sees its last snowfall.

That will give the paparazzi, traditional media, and bloggers plenty of time to rake the muck for detritus the front runners have left behind. At the same time, the prospective nominees will be at once tacking to the center and trying to pacify their respective bases. The end result will be two demonized candidates, and a jaded electorate will once again be presented with two evils and asked to pick the lesser.

The front-loading of primaries is a tragedy of the commons: there is very little penalty to an individual State in moving its primary forward. As usual, the commons is spoiled when the only discipline is the integrity of those who stand to gain by spoiling it.

So spoil it we have. Now the candidates will have all of their primaries right up front, and money will be more important than ever. With enough money, a candidate can get name recognition and "viability" in every primary. Without enough money, a candidate simply has to drop out, no matter how strong his character or how well constructed or popular his set of ideas. After the caucuses in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire, the candidates without a solid national presence, name recognition, and organization will be gone.

Republicans have in recent history picked their candidates based on whose turn it was. A successor has always been available. This year, however, there is no heir apparent. This was to be the chance to really examine the field, for a candidate of substance and ideas to come out of the pack. The front-loaded primary season denies the Republicans that opportunity.

Democrats do have an heir apparent in Hillary Clinton. And oh, how the media will love her candidacy: a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane to the 1990's, to a time before Matt Drudge and 9/11 spoiled their love affair with Clinton42, though not their love for him. They will breathlessly question whether the country is ready for a female President, while either lauding her policy positions or leaving them unscrutinized.

Every dirty trick available to political operatives, biased reporters, renegade bloggers, and partisan computer hackers will be employed in the quest to take down both candidates. In the process no stone will be left unturned, and in the case of the Clintons, no intern left unstoned.

By the time September 2008 rolls around, both candidates will be thoroughly known, and
both will be thoroughly disliked by about half of the country. Their spouses, children, personal lives, old boyfriends and girlfriends if such there be, all will be examined and smeared, raw meat turned into hamburger of various grades in the machinery by which we elect our Presidents. Once again, the middle sliver, those who care least about who is elected, will decide the outcome. Such is the nature of the modern democracy.

(As an aside, I wonder how soon an Internet-only candidate will be viable.)

Some might wonder what the problem is. Aren't we supposed to learn everything about the skeletons in a candidate's closet? Doesn't that help us pick a stable, reliable person for the most powerful job in the world? Possibly. But we don't get to watch debates that matter. We don't get to read about, watch, or listen to candidates arguing their positions one day and see how another State votes the next. The early primaries are essentially a national primary, which diminishes the role of the States in the process of selecting a President.

Instead, we will get two national demons, and the 5% of us who don't hate either one or both of them will decide the election.

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Nate Nelson said...

Actually, Loren, you're behind the times. Crazy as it is, South Carolina has moved its primary to mid-January in order to keep its status as "first in the South" after Florida moved its primary to the last Tuesday in January. Now, in response, Iowa must move its caucus and New Hampshire its primary up even further, which means that the first primaries will be either in very early January or - get this - perhaps even before Christmas.

Personally, I think that all of the states should have to have primaries on the same day and that this should be no more than two or three months prior to the nominating conventions.

KnightErrant said...

I suspect that, round about May, both party's rank and file will look up from their Wheaties and wonder how the heck those two imbeciles got picked and why weren't they asked.

It won't be buyer's remorse because most people will not have bought into the process. The 2008 election is ripe for a third-party. There may even be four candidates come November '08 - the two main parties official nominees plus rational alternatives for both parties that the public will demand.

Loren Heal said...

Nate --

Gosh, I can't take my eyes off these pesky States for a moment, or they get into mischief.

I'd rather see the primaries grouped by region into California-sized chunks, with the bigger States first. That way an unknown candidate has a shot with a good showing in CA carrying interest into (e.g.) TX/OK/AZ/NM, NY/NJ/CT, and so on. A national primary day would become a national election in which the States don't matter, only money.

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