Monday, March 24, 2008

Surely there must be a better way to select a candidate

As argued before on this blog, the 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 have basically defined the campaign for the rest of the country by knocking out a number of candidates (at least on the Democratic side). They frame the nomination process by giving fundraising advantages to the frontrunners and this year was no different. This was well in advance of most American voters getting a chance to consider the candidates.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this year primaries and caucuses were pushed up to start in early January – almost a year before the election and over a year before the eventual winner takes office. This is a process that used to start in mid-March and end in June followed by a July convention. This year the process started in early January and ends in June with an August convention. When you take into consideration the election is in November and the inauguration isn’t until January 20th, you have to wonder if the process of democracy is pushing aside the substance of democracy. In some, if not all, parliamentary systems the campaign, election and taking of office takes weeks, not months.

I had worried about “buyer’s remorse” assuming the conventional wisdom of a knock-out blow by one candidate on Super Tuesday (February 5th) but instead we are getting a never-ending nightmare splitting the party and sapping Democrats everywhere of money as resources are poured into the unresolved Presidential nomination race.

As Walter Shapiro points out today in Salon that the buyer’s remorse that is setting in isn’t with the candidates but with the process itself. So many states rushed to front-load the system trying to be relevant in the process that they are now mere observers in the heated campaign.

Forget buyer's remorse -- the real malady likely to be triggered by the never-ending Democratic presidential race is buyer's confusion. It has already been seven weeks since a majority of Democrats cast their votes in the Woozy Tuesday Feb. 5 primaries, and even longer in fast-forward states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Those voters picked their candidates back in the innocent days when Bear Stearns was regarded as a pillar of Wall Street and Eliot Spitzer a pillar of rectitude.

Sixteen years ago, the last time the Democrats won back the White House, fewer than half the delegates had been selected by the end of March, with big-state primaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and California still on the docket. This campaign year the Democrats are already down to seeds and stems with 82 percent of the delegates having been chosen by March 11. This simple arithmetical fact -- combined with the scheduling of the 2008 Democratic Convention six weeks later than in 1992 -- is what gives such an air of unreality to the final installments of the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton soap opera.

With the chances to rerun the outlaw Michigan and Florida primaries now at the vanishing point, it may be time to inquire about a do-over for the rest of America. This is not an argument for Clinton, who otherwise probably has too far to go and too few remaining primaries to get there. But after a week punctuated by Obama's right-stuff response to wrong-way Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Clinton's document dump of today-tea-was-served White House schedules, Democrats are being barraged with new information about the candidates long after most of them have made a binding decision on a nominee. It is akin to being given a subscription to Consumer Reports the day after you bought a new car.

The marketing of the Democratic race is made to order for this era of narrow-casting and the long tail on the bell curve. Unless you live in one of the eight states left to vote (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon) or are among the more than 300 or so undeclared superdelegates, your views no longer matter.


With more than five months to the Denver Convention, the problem for the Democrats remains the crazy-quilt schedule that caused far too many to vote too soon. That is the real buyer's remorse -- a front-loaded political calendar that has turned most partisan Democrats into now-irrelevant bystanders just when a real decision is needed.

Add to the confusion 794 unelected superdelegates that push the total number of delegates needed for a majority out of reach for candidates in a close race. The superdelegates include current members of Congress which makes all the sense in the world since they will be running on the same ticket as the nominee and working in Washington with the winner. Then there are Democratic governors which the same case can sort of be made. But then the delegation of “supers” includes members of the Democratic National Committee and former Congressional leaders. There is no reason why these people can’t run for a delegate position like everyone else. At least current elected officials are answerable to the voters directly.

(And don’t blame the proportional allocation of delegates for the dilemma either. According to Mr. Super, if the Democrats had a winner takes-all system, Obama’s 1,620 pledged delegates and Clinton’s 1,499 would turn into 1,700 for Obama and 1,628 for Clinton.)

Surely there must be a better way to select a candidate.

You can read Shapiro’s entire piece here.

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