Predicaments and primaries

By Dan Streib

Conventional conundrums abound in regards to the timing of states’ presidential primaries this election cycle. In Florida, state Democrats are trying to hold an earlier primary, but doing so violates party laws. The Democratic National Committee leadership is threatening to disallow Florida delegates from attending its 2008 nominating convention unless they obey the scheduling rules. This means Florida primary voters’ ballots might not contribute to the selection of the Democratic presidential candidate. On the other side of the political aisle, the New York Times reported that the Republican Party is threatening to take away half of the delegates of five states for the same reason. Infighting among national and state parties is on the rise. All signs are pointing to a showdown.

Although parties often seem reluctant to pay attention to voter concerns, this is one occasion that merits their attention to ballot-casting members. The old conflict in the parties’ pre-1972 years used to be whether each state primary should have received any attention at all. At the time, they were a mere symbolic measure of voter preference while the major decisions were made in smoky back room deals. Protests in 1968 brought the old way of doing things down, and established state primaries and caucuses as the proper method of selecting presidential nominees. Despite modern American society’s comparatively mellow nature, cautious organizations, such as political parties, would be wise to learn well the lessons of history.

Another point of historical interest was a time when not only primaries were being debated, but the concept of democracy itself was also under fire. That was the time of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and World War II. When democracy was relatively new, but was simultaneously the post-World War I status quo in Europe and America, it found itself under threat from the likes of fascism and communism.

That is precisely the time when one of good ole’ Winnie’s many great quotes came in quite handy: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried.” It was a wonderful phrase indeed, but with a little modification it would fit America’s current primary predicament quite nicely. Try this: The primary system in America is the worst system for selecting presidential nominees, except for all those other systems yet to be tried.

Since we, the voters, tend to end up having the final say in how political parties run themselves, it seems prudent that we too examine this spat of intraparty fighting closely. Because Iowa and New Hampshire’s “first-in-the nation” status is what’s causing state primary friction, many questions emerge.

Is it fair that Iowa and New Hampshire’s elections come first?

Should our method of nominating presidents change? Some say that the game of primary musical chairs will lead to a national primary. Is this healthy?

In a similar way that democratic fragility and inefficiency was lauded by tyrants and oppressors in Churchill’s time, the unduly large influence of Iowa and New Hampshire on our nation’s nominating process is despised by those not residing there. Although those that seek to challenge Iowa and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status are not tyrants, they can still be just as mistaken in their reasoning. In reality, the media coverage given to the winner of those two state contests can easily be ignored by citizens from outside those states. In other words, voters in Anchorage have the courage and wherewithal to disagree with those from Des Moines, if they so choose.

The upside to having two small states kick off the election season is that they can serve to give a contender, who does not have the funding to mount a national campaign, the recognition he or she so desperately needs to be a viable candidate. In other words, Iowans and New Hampshireans give a dark horse a place to ride.

This is a valuable quality of our current nominative process that should not be so quickly stripped away by those claiming inefficiency and undue influence.

Despite its flaws, the status quo is correct. So, we citizens of the United States should not hesitate to show support for the worst option. That is, the worst option except for all of the others.