Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Serious Proposal For Reforming The Nomination Process

With the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away, we are yet again facing the same set of questions political junkies have been hearing for decades: Why Iowa and New Hampshire? Why do we begin our contest for nominating candidates for the Presidency with two small, rural, unrepresentative-in-every-way states? The usual answers - because they're small, because they allow face-to-face connection with voters, yadda-yadda- just don't cut it anymore. While I know it pains so many in the national press to accept this, we live in the day and age of the internet. The basic falseness of the old-style face-to-face campaigning for the Presidency is meaningless. With the restructuring of the whole system of campaign finance with the Citizens United decision, as well as the advent of new technologies for connecting with large swaths of the potential voting public, I think it's high time, past time even, for the major parties to stop coddling the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire. There isn't anything wrong with them; they are both states in the United States, filled with good, hard-working folks who also happen to be mostly white and rural in a country that is multi-racial and urban. Their preferences and concerns are not those of the majority of Americans.

With the Democrats taking the cycle of primaries off, I believe there is an opening, if anyone in the Democratic Party had any sense, to completely revamp the entire primary/caucus system. Proposals like this are a dime a dozen; I believe even (gasp!) David Broder proposed something similar to what I am proposing way back in the 1990's. That doesn't make it wrong; it doesn't make it right. It does, I think, address certain inequities and disparities within the nominating process as well as make the system a bit less nonsensical.

The first Tuesday of each month of the primary season, beginning in January and ending in May, have primaries in 10 states. The first set of primaries would include California, the largest state. The second would include Texas. The third, New York. The fourth Illinois. The last, in May, would include Florida. Have the ten states spread across the country. No regional primaries like the old Democratic "Super Tuesday" nonsense.

By having each set of primaries include the five largest states, with California being up front, rather than last as has happened historically, the system would put a premium upon organization and fund-raising - a key barometer of support prior to voting; moreso than all the nonsensical, nearly daily "polling" that means absolutely nothing. It would also keep vanity candidacies such as those of Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum from this year, to a minimum. While anyone could declare their candidacy, once it became clear that some just couldn't create the infrastructure because of a lack of support and funds, they would fade away.

With a premium on organization and fund-raising, and with the understanding that competition will be in very large states with diverse populations, as well as small states, there will also be an emphasis, right off the bat, on national appeal. Candidates will be able to use the internet as well as traditional media; barnstorming tours rather than pretending to care about the farmers at some Hayseed County Fair in Iowa when everyone, including the farmers, knows they don't. With the rules established under the Citizens United decision clearly making corporate support - in a general sense; large organizations can advertise for candidates - easier, rather than stand around and whine about it, something the Democrats have been doing since the Court handed the decision down, they should use it to their advantage. Candidates could get both corporations and unions, large lobbying firms and other large organizations who have voiced a willingness to support a candidate to put their money where their mouths are.

I doubt very highly that either party, certainly not the Democrats, would ever think of doing something like this. For some odd reason, the whole process of choosing candidates is held hostage to nostalgia and simple-mindedness. The largest states in the union get shafted in the process. The mega-urban corridor on the east coast - running from Boston to Richmond, VA - gets little to no attention. The uniqueness of Texas with its very large urban areas, its vast physical spaces, its many and diverse needs and interests, becomes just "Texas" the southern state with border issues. Having Illinois be a key state would highlight the needs of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes states, a group of moderate-sized states that are diverse within and among themselves that nevertheless share key interests and changing populations and demographics.

The country has changed many times over the decades since the beginning of the primary/caucus era. The system, sad to say, has just not reflected those many changes. Personally, I would almost welcome some other system - a national primary day, say - to the one we have now. At the very least, the proposal on offer here has the distinct advantage of ensuring a modicum of seriousness and attention to central issues facing the nation as a whole. It also would reflect the reality that our nation is an urban, diverse nation. The one disadvantage it has, I think, is how sensible it is.

Virtual Tin Cup

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