The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It Begins

After all of the handshakes, all the spinning, all the talking heads, and all the polls, the presidential nomination process begins tonight in Iowa. It is, to be charitable, a joke. The primary process as it is currently structured has outlived its usefulness. In a 21st century, media-driven information sphere, it does disservice to the country and could lead to presidential candidates that are, shall we say, suboptimal.

Ronald Cass comments:
The nominating system starts in Iowa, not just with an unrepresentative state but with unrepresentative voters as well. On the Democrat side in particular, this is coupled with deeply flawed voting methods that resemble a political game of musical chairs. And for both sides, the game is played in small venues replete with public pressure, both from those who have intense interests in particular issues and from those who profit directly from the process. Iowa's caucus system empowers the most insular of special interests, political junkies, and folks with little better to do on a cold night in winter. Iowans are wedded to their caucus system, but no political scientist trying to design a representative voting method reflecting national consensus would have thought up this peculiar arrangement.

But the MSM mentions none of this, treating the IA results as if they were handed down from the mount, breathlessly talking about momentum and new “front-runners.” As a consequence, too many primary voters in major states all too often listen uncritically, and as a consequence, are swayed toward candidates that, to be blunt, don’t deserve their votes. The flow of campaign contributions changes, sapping the strength of those who might benefit the country.

But it doesn’t stop with IA. As if the pols have decided to prolong a very bad joke, the next stop is another scarcely populated, rural, ethnically unrepresentative, economically distorted New England state. Again, Cass comments:
The next stop is New Hampshire, with about 4/10th of one percent of the nation's population. The New Hampshire primary plays by ordinary primary rules, but it has its share of quirky ideas and preferences. Over the years, New Hampshire has voted for more than a few candidates who've gone on to victory, but its primary voters also endorsed Harold Stassen, Ed Muskie, Henry Cabot Lodge, Paul Tsongas, and Gary Hart, a collection of local favorites, neighbors, and soon-to-implode wannabes.

Of course, it’s reasonable to argue that IA and NH deserve to participate. But do they deserve to have their tiny primaries magnified by a MSM who never put the resulting into a national perspective and rarely offer a critical comment on the existing system? Again from Cass:
Iowa and New Hampshire are, to be sure, part of America, but they aren't all of America or a microcosm of America by any stretch of the imagination. The conceit among a group of cognoscenti over the years - and, in truth, not over very many years by historical standards (1968 for New Hampshire and 1972 for Iowa, really) - is that the rest of the nation can pretty well take the leaders selected by these states on faith, trusting that they've done the hard work of looking the candidates over and selecting the best. But "best" for one isn't best for all, and there is plenty of evidence that Iowans and New Hampshirites can favor people the rest of us might not like nearly so much.

The big, representative states will have their say, but only after weeks of media commentary on the “importance” of the primaries in IA and NH.

Is this any way to pick presidential candidates in the 21st century? I think not.

Update: (1/4/08)

Every once in while the editorial writers for the New York Times get it exactly right. This morning, they note:
We don’t question the enthusiasm or the commitment of the people of Iowa and New Hampshire. But Iowa, where a huge turnout amounts to less than 10 percent of the population, is about 92 percent white, more rural and older than the rest of the nation. New Hampshire has a non-Hispanic white population of about 95 percent. Iowa’s Democrats are more liberal and more protectionist than the nation’s Democrats. Its Republicans are more conservative, and religiously driven, than the nation’s Republicans. And yet, The Boston Globe reported that Mr. Romney spent $7 million on ads in Iowa. That’s nearly $4 per registered voter.

We believe the time has long passed for both parties to not only break the Iowa-New Hampshire habit but also end the damaging race to be third, with states pushing their primaries closer and closer to New Year’s Day.