Friday, October 12, 2007

When Primaries Made a Difference

There was a time when the Presidential primaries gave the public the chance to get to know the candidates. It was not only a grueling endurance test – criss-crossing the country, traveling from state to state over a period of six months, it was like boot camp for government service. At the very least it did give us a little time to think about in whom we were going to put our trust. I loved it when Iowa and New Hampshire happened ina frozen January, then there was some space in between and in June we voted in New Jersey and California.

The spread out primaries were important for a number of reasons. We could watch the candidates mature. We could see if there was a consistency in what they said. We could see by the people who staffed them during the campaign, the kind of people they might appoint in their Administration.

We had some time to see the way the candidates conducted themselves in stressful situations and how they reacted to pressure under unpredictable circumstances. And when there was a crisis or some uncomfortable revelation—which there always is --we had some time to see the way things played out. The public could estimate if the candidate of their choice seemed honest. Did they conduct themselves with dignity and civility? Were they able to keep the attention of a large crowd, a small group, when talking one on one. Did they seem sensible, interested in issues, worldly and competent. We saw something building and we celebrated the wins and we suffered with the losses. We got to know the person who might lead the nation.

The Democratic primaries are rolling out as pretty meaningless. They will begin either shortly before or after Christmas or, in some cases Hannukah. The holidays will provide a distraction for sure. What is the need for everyone to be first? It’s become more than a contest for who will be the nominee; it’s like watching five year olds who are told to line up and they push and shove to be the first in line. They think being first makes them more important. I think the Democrats who are making these stupid decisions have five year old mind sets. The DNC has decided that anyone who moves the primary up before New Hampshire won’t have their delegates seated at the convention. Well nobody is going to tell these five year olds what to do. Florida, among other states has moved their primary... and they don’t even have to worry about weather. (I mean part of the primary charm is being in that terrible snowy, skid-prone, winter dizziness in the north and mid west. Don’t get me wrong, I hate Iowa in January. I can remember waking up in the morning with snow drifts actually in our sleazy motel room.) The point is what’s the point.

There are some folks who will say that the states who have primaries in later months don’t have the same impact as those up front. But that’s not true. As much of an impact as the early states have, sometimes it does come down to the last contests. In 1984 Walter Mondale was not winning as easily as he expected. Gary Hart had made the primaries into a real contest. It all came down to New Jersey and California, both states with lots of delegates. At a fund raiser in California, Gary decided to talk to the press (he was told not to do this) and sure enough when asked about Lee (his wife) he said that Lee was lucky because she got to be in California and he got stuck in N.J. It was a dreadful moment and being a Jersey girl I knew his chances of a win on the East Coast were no longer a possibility. Mondale became the nominee.

What impact will it have on the Presidential decision if there are states who don’t have representation? My guess is that people from States Without Representation will not sit by quietly, nor will they stay home. Will there be a convention like Chicago in ‘68 or Florida in ’72? Will there be fist fights and pie throwing? Will people get tossed off some mountain in Denver?

Let’s say that Clinton wins in Iowa, Obama wins in New Hampshire, and Kucinich wins in South Carolina. Then without taking a breath, there are 20 other primaries in two weeks. Which are divided between Dodd, Biden and Richardson because they went into those states rather then the traditional first three. Everyone wants to be first someplace and the resources will be so limited that whoever can withstand the financial assault will be the winner. (OK it’s unlikely but we’re playing let’s pretend). This condensed primary season is probably good for Clinton and maybe Obama, but it’s bad for us because neither of these candidates will have been tested in a thoughtful way. Neither the candidates not the public will have a chance to breathe.

Maybe when I fell off my dinosaur I hit my head and I can’t get beyond what was good in the past. But it takes time to have insights and make thoughtful choices, and it seems to me that if you give the public an opportunity to be educated about the person who will become the most powerful elected official (Oprah wasn’t elected) in the world, the likelihood of real progress and a good sense approach to problem solving on both a personal, and greater scheme of things level, could become a reality for all of us. We’re just sayin...Iris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welcome to both parties' wrestling control from the 'people' by compressing the time between primaries, so that the 'party' can crown their anointed down our throats.

Democracy in decline.

Hail Caesar. We are witnessing our Republic becoming another bad Empire, with the out-of-touch elite believing they can control the course of history. HA, what fools.

Walt - simply remembering his college history class 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"