Sunday, February 03, 2008

All Campaign All The Time

I really wonder why people cannot see clearly what is directly in front of them. It should be obvious by now that most of our big-time pundits have no feeling for, or real interest in, real democracy. Fully invested in the political culture of Washington, dedicated to understanding the play of insiders - which itself is far more beholden to personalities than any consideration of policy - they could not care less about the way elections and other vehicles for expressing the will of the people actually pan out, or how people feel about them. They are far busier telling people who's in, who's out, who's up, who's down, than they are giving an opinion that might actually inform.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Dean of Political Journalism is disgusted at the fact that we are having what he calls "what amounts to a national primary" on Tuesday. He is further disgusted by the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are flooding the airwaves in various states with television ads. He sets up a phony dichotomy between the ways in which the primary campaigns played out in the early states versus the Super Tuesday states:
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada had graduate-school time to study the field, while the voters in the Feb. 5 states got only a CliffsNotes version of the campaign.

Now, one could draw several conclusions from this kind of thing. One is that, in fact, Broder is in favor of more, rather than less democracy. Of course, if that is so, and if it meant more retail politics in more states, then the first primaries for the 2012 election cycle would have to begin sometime next summer. Consider just one state - my native New York - and what it would take to do retail politics there. The state contains the second largest city, second largest metropolitan area, yet that accounts for only about 35% of the state's population, and just a fraction of the state's geographic expanse. There are two mountainous areas - the Catskills (which are really just a small part of the Appalaichans) and the much larger Adirondacks (the combined federal and state park land in the Adirondacks is bigger than the state of Connecticut). The Finger Lakes, stretching westward just below Lake Ontario and out to the shores of Lake Erie contain grape arbors and apple orchards, dairy farms, small colleges, a potential for burgeoning industry, with the twin medium cities of Rochester and Buffalo anchoring it. The center of the state has Syracuse and its small cousin Utica, with histories of corruption and huge snows. From Albany and Schenectady on down the Hudson Valley lie the estates of the oldest families, mostly Dutch (including the Roosevelts). Up north is a line, made jagged by the peaks of the Adirondacks, between Watertown and Lake Placid, with still more colleges and universities the farther north you go, until you get to the college town of Potsdam, and just 30 or so miles further on the US border town of Massena, closer to the capital of Canada and the Provincial Capital of Quebec than to either Albany or Washington. Millions of people stretched out over thousands of square miles of diverse terrain, with unique interests and demands, histories and possible futures. A candidate could spend the better part of a year just in upstate New York doing retail politics, never once hitting the Five Boroughs or its environs, and still not cover all the territory.

Of course, this doesn't include TV advertising. There are stations not just in New York, Buffalo, or Rochester. Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, Schenectady, and Elmira all have local affiliates of broadcast networks that reach to the far corners of the state. Eschewing television advertising would be impossible, but it would also be even more expensive in a longer, ground-operation type campaign. And that is just one state. We have not yet ventures south to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota. Then, of course, there's California, where the kind of politics Broder is talking about would be flat-out impossible.

Of course, to someone whose entire life is invested in politics as much as Broder is the prospect of a campaign-without-end probably sounds like heaven on earth. Yet, politics is not primarily about elections, or campaigning. It is about governance. All this primary stuff does not exist to employ political operatives or journalists, but to find candidates to fill offices to serve the public. The public would tune out a years-long campaign (although this year's seems to be an exception, starting in earnest about a year before any balloting; I think public disgust with the current Administration has a lot to do with that), and the pundits would mostly be talking to one another.

This is the kind of silly, empty-headed nonsense that sounds like the defense of democracy, but turns out to be nothing more than a lobby for the permanent employment of political pundits. Who knows, maybe he's bucking for better diners than they have in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Virtual Tin Cup

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