Friday, January 04, 2008

Boycott the Iowa Caucuses!

The presidential-election process in the United States has reached a point where almost everyone admits it is insane. Theoretically nominees are chosen by conventions in the summer, but since the 1960s the conventions have been rubber-stamp affairs, certifying the candidate who won the most delegates in the primaries. At some point New Hampshire became the state with the earliest primary. In fact, the primaries were scheduled in a more or less east-to-west pattern, with California coming last. California elected a big chunk of delegates, so the issue was often not decided until after its primary, in June.

But the exigencies of fund-raising in the TV age drove states to push their primaries earlier. We all know the story: candidates need buckets of money to pay for TV ads, so they must spend as much time raising funds as meeting voters. If you fall behind in the fund-raising race early, you will lose traction in the early primaries, lose more credibility with the money people, and spiral downward to oblivion. Worse, the press seems incapable of covering any aspect of the campaign except the money race. So the set of viable candidates decreases fast, leaving even large states with pointless primaries if they happen to come after, say, the second wave. The inevitable consequence was that states got into an "arms race," moving their primary dates earlier and earlier to stay relevant. New Hampshire insists on being the earliest, which has led to ridiculous squabbles and byzantine intrigues. Now the New Hampshire primary is held in January (January!), followed by a huge gob of them in one big wave in early February, including California and New York, and it's hard to hope that there will be much to decide after that. So that means we have a gap from February until late August when the nominees-presumptive will be twiddling their thumbs.

What can be done about this mess? Short of a constitutional amendment, it's hard to think what. I don't quite understand how the primary system got through the constitutional filter in the first place. How can a state forbid a party from choosing its nominee any way it wants? If only we could go back to the system that chose Truman, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Lincoln as their parties' nominees. It was supposedly less democratic than the contraption that replaced it. Assume it is; is that necessarily a bad thing? The problem with the modern age is that representative democracy has been replaced by direct meddling by the public in the doings of its representatives. We can see what's happening on the House and Senate floor in real time, and we can mobilize our lobbyists electronically to coerce our elected officials to block whatever initiatives our group abhors.

The presidential-election calendar got off to its "official" start yesterday, with the Iowa Caucuses, some silly process that, because it isn't a primary, is permitted by New Hampshire to occur a few days earlier than the majestic New Hampshire election. No doubt in 2012 some candidate will find an even sillier non-primary in an earlier state, and, by making a stand there, cause it to become the new "official" start of the Presidential-election calendar.

Well, I am boycotting. I refuse to listen to the results of the Iowa Caucuses, and to the analysis by commentators about what the results mean for the presidential race, as if they themselves ere not the ones who determine what they mean. (Never is the passive voice more dishonestly used than when it is used by the media.) Perhaps if we all shut our eyes and ears for a few days every four years, the Iowa Caucuses will just go away, and some earlier event, occurring in the year before the election, will not raise its ugly head.

After that, we can set our sights on New Hampshire.

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