As we enter the second (or is it the third?) year of the campaign for the November 2008 Presidential election, it is finally time to give some consideration to this nomination selection process and the candidates before the Iowa caucuses later this week starts off the avalanche of caucuses and primaries scheduled for the next few months.
Please excuse me for just a minute as I rant about the whole process. This absurd Rube Goldberg system of selecting major party nominees is extremely wasteful in time and resources and does nothing to carry forward democracy or the best interests of the country.
Iowa, with its caucus system in which just a miniscule number of people participate, and tiny little New Hampshire with its must-be-first-no-matter-what primary will likely make and break numerous campaigns with the possibility of setting one candidate up in each party as the ultimate nominee. At a minimum, they will frame the nomination process by giving fundraising advantages to the frontrunners. This will be a long time before most American voters will get a chance to consider the candidates.
It simply isn’t in the best interests of the candidates or the parties. Given the timing of this whole process -- almost a year before the election -- there is the very real possibility of “buyers’ remorse” setting in and the public and maybe even party activists, becoming disillusioned and/or tired of the candidates. And while this campaign is almost as long as the term of office the candidates are running for most of the public across the country are outside the process. Any momentum the eventual nominees may have had during the winter primaries and caucuses will be long gone by Labor Day.
I would propose a national primary based upon the popular vote six weeks before the general election. There would be no conventions. If no candidate received a majority of votes cast then the top two candidates would compete in a run-off primary one week later. Candidates would be prohibited from campaigning until one month before the national primary. I would also have the winner take office no less than one month after the election. I know lots of people have any number of excuses why this process can’t be simplified and made more democratic but let’s remember many European nations have very democratic and speedy electoral systems.
I could go on and on (don’t get me started on the Electoral College) but unfortunately we are stuck with the system we’ve got for the foreseeable future. However, we’re not stuck with the any candidate…yet.
As for the race at hand, it appears at this time the real race is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with John Edwards running close behind. Senators Biden and Dodd as well as Governor Richardson are all great guys but don’t appear to be picking up the steam needed to survive this crazy electoral cycle.
I have come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton – who has been running as the “inevitable” nominee – is not the best choice for the Democrats. Here are some of my thoughts:
Don’t count on the collapse of the Republicans: Right now the Republicans are divided but we can’t count on the Republican Party collapsing. They managed to elect a complete idiot to the White House not once but twice in the past eight years. It’s foolish to just assume they can’t pull it off again even with one of that sorry lot they have running for their nomination. We won’t have George Bush to kick around anymore which means the Republicans will have a fresh face to present to American voters. The Republicans may even surprise us by nominating their strongest candidate, Senator John McCain although if elected he will be the oldest President this country has ever had and will certainly be among the oldest of the world’s leaders.
The Democrats succeeded in making the 2006 Congressional election a referendum on George Bush and won. Unfortunately, they just barely won and while responsible for the leadership in both the House and the Senate do not have the votes to accomplish much. The public is not happy with the lack of progress and now hold the Democratic Congress in as low regard as they hold the Republican President. While being the non-incumbent party for the White House the Democrats are the incumbent party for Congress and voters will take that into account next November. It is foolish to assume the 2008 election will be a cakewalk. Simply being the anti-Bush/not-Republican party was good enough for 2006 but won’t be enough to win in 2008.
Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton: No one born since 1970 has voted in a Presidential election that did not have a Bush or a Clinton running at the top of the ticket. What kind of a message does that send to all those nations already suspicious of the American promotion of democracy? What happened to grooming leadership for the future? We are a republic and this two decade run by the Clinton and Bush families is enough. Both parties can, and need to, do better.
Hillary Clinton as the incumbent: It’s important to remember not everyone thinks back on the administration of Bill Clinton as the good old days and Hillary Clinton would run not as a fresh face but as an incumbent of sorts for a Clinton third term. Bill Clinton’s presidency was a mixed bag which, of course, is far better than the disaster of George Bush’s presidency. But it will be will far easier for whoever the Republican candidate is to distance himself from George Bush than for Hillary Clinton to distance herself from Bill Clinton. In some ways she would be running as the incumbent without the institutional advantages incumbency carries. My sense of the electorate is Americans want change this year.
And it’s not just the
The vote against race or gender: A friend of mine pointed out that there are a number of Americans who would vote against Barak Obama because he is black. I completely agree. However, I don’t believe any of those people would vote for any Democrat anyway. Those voters just aren’t in play. And the same goes for the gender issue for Hillary Clinton – yes, there are Americans who would not vote for a woman but they are not going to vote Democratic anyway. Again, those voters aren’t in play. However, what’s different about her is I believe there are Americans who would vote for a Democrat but are not going to vote for Hillary Clinton not because she is a woman but because she is Hillary Clinton. Those voters are in play and we may be writing them off by nominating her.
Polarization: Hillary Clinton has become a polarizing figure. If she is to blame for this, it is only partially so at most. Right-wingers have turned her name into an epithet and have an almost Pavlovian response to her. Contempt just drips from their mouths every time they mention her name. She seems to be the one Democratic candidate who can unite the Republicans (without necessarily uniting the Democrats).
This isn’t to say there is anything wrong in standing up to these characters but why fight that battle when it can be avoided. Wouldn’t it be better to focus energy on issues of war and peace, global warming, immigration reform, and health care?
This raises a problem not only getting elected but also for governing unless the Democrats can make substantial gains in Congress. (Congressional gains seem likely but substantial gains seem unlikely as this time given how the system is geared to protect incumbents.) There is no reason to believe the Republicans will let go of their disrespectful reaction to the
Electability: There is already speculation about an independent run for President against the candidates of the two major political parties. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee my guess is this would increase the likelihood of an independent challenge because the Republican candidate, whoever he is, will work to put distance between himself and the Bush Whitehouse but won’t be entirely successful. Just ask Al Gore how easily that can be done. Given a choice between the party of
My home state of
The choice: Biden and Dodd are great guys but are too much a part of the party and Senate establishment.
I’ve come to the conclusion Barack Obama would be the best candidate for the Democrats and the best President for the country. We Democrats need someone who will win and we Americans need someone who will unite the country.
Hillary Clinton certainly stands head and shoulders above anyone running for the Republican nomination and if she is the nominee then Democrats should rally behind her. However, for the time being, the Democrats have the luxury of making a choice – fight the battles we choose to fight or fight the battles imposed upon us. Our moment is now.