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The Expansionist
Monday, January 02, 2012
Ignore Iowa. Why do media pay so much attention to the Iowa caucuses? Even tho major media have pointed out that Mike Huckabee won Iowa last time but lost the nomination badly, and that Reagan and Bush the Elder didn't win Iowa, they still waste tons of precious time on this absurdly unimportant event. NBC Nitely News today pointed out that the Iowa caucus vote is "too white, too evangelical, too rural" to be representative of the Nation, but that observation was contained in a report about the Iowa caucuses! That is, Andrea Mitchell openly questioned whether we should be spending the very time on this, that she herself was spending!
In like fashion, the first primary is in New Hampshire, another extremely unrepresentative state, also too white and too rural to be regarded as a bellwether of the national vote.
In Virginia, the insanity of how candidates are chosen even for the primary ballot was revealed when only two of the nationally recognized Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, qualified last week to appear on the March 6th — MARCH — primary ballot. The remaining five candidates (Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and John Huntsman) have joined together to sue for inclusion on the ballot. Why on Earth would a March primary ballot be closed in December? Now these excluded Republican candidates know how minor parties feel about procedures adopted by the major parties to limit ballot access against Third Parties.
"All five of us are saying ... this should not be a gauntlet to figure out how you can make it virtually impossible to run for president," Gingrich said. "This ought to be a system that enables the voters to decide who they would like to have run for president."
But it's OK to block minor parties from the general election ballot by similar mechanisms, eh? If ever the public has hungered for alternatives to the crappy major parties, it is now.
The whole process of selecting a President has gone off the rails. Could we purposely design  a worse system? That would take some doing.
The primary system was intended to democratize the electoral process, but has had exactly the opposite effect. Whereas the "smoke-filled room" of old was controlled with professional pols who understood things like balancing the ticket to appeal to the widest possible audience, the primary process gives tiny groups of radical loons the power to control the ballot in the general election, because almost nobody votes in primaries. As a percentage of voting-age citizens, primaries now attract only 8% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans (see the first line-graph at the NYTimes article, "Primary Voter Turnout Stays Low, but More So for Democrats" from September 2010).
In a two-way contest, a candidate need attract only 6% of Republicans or 5% of Democrats. In the current contest, a seven-candidate field may divide 11% of the vote, which means that a 'big winner' need 'win' only 3% of the public, and a bare-winner need win only 1.6%. Do you see, now, why our politics are so crazy?
The consequences have been dire, with the present Congress being the worst in recent times.
[Thomas Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington,] acknowledges there have been worse times for Congress, but he reaches back a very long way for a comparison.

"There were a few really bruising periods in American congressional history, not only the run-up to the Civil War, but also around the War of 1812," he says.

A Gallup poll published earlier this month found that just 11 percent of Americans approve of Congress' performance. A whopping 86 percent gave a thumbs-down. That's the lowest rating since Gallup started taking the public pulse on this issue in 1974. A similar poll conducted by The Associated Press registered a 12 percent approval rating, and a CBS/New York Times poll in October placed Congress' approval rating at 9 percent. * * *

[Mann summarizes:] "there have been battles, delays, brinkmanship — but nothing quite like this."
That's what happens when as little as 2% (or, at best, 10%) of the public decides a primary. If the moderates don't vote in the primaries, we get only immoderate candidates on the general-election ballot. And they have to stay immoderate once elected, even against their personal inclinations, to be able to win the next primary election in which radical loons control.
What can we do? Here are some thoughts. You may have your own.
(a) Part of the problem Nate Silver speaks to in the NYTimes article cited above is declining percentages of voters who identify with a particular party and register in it for purposes of voting in the primary (only 30% of the population registers as Democrats, and another 30% as Republicans, which means that 40% of the population are ineligible to vote in a closed primary). If 40% of the electorate is ineligible to vote in primaries, the closed primary election as an institution is intrinsically undemocratic, so should be abolished.
(b) Retain open primaries, but boost participation. Probably the easiest way to do that is simply to forbid anyone to vote in the general election if they do not also vote in the primary. That would not require people to register with a given party if we make all primaries open primaries. Independents could vote for a candidate of either party, and voting machines would be set to permit one vote, regardless of party. If legislators think an open primary inadvisable, in that some people of one party might vote for whom they perceive as the weakest candidate in the other party, then it is perfectly within the power of that state to abolish its own primary.

If that sets off a wave of cancellations of primaries, so much the better. Let each party follow its own procedure for selecting its own candidates, be it an Internet poll, mail-in ballot, local meetings (like the Iowa caucuses), a convention in each electoral district and Congressional district, a statewide convention — whatever. The costs of all those methods for selecting the candidate of a private political organization should be borne by that private organization alone, NOT by taxpayers.
(c) All states can abolish the primary system, open or closed, altogether. I repeat that political parties are private organizations, not organs of government. Why should taxpayers have to pay for those private organizations' internal decisionmaking?
(d) Of course, if we had term limits, in the last legal term, an elected official need not kowtow to the loons, but would be free to vote his conscience. I'll bet the people who want a constitutional amendment to put term limits in place for Congress haven't thought about that.

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