Democrats & Liberals Archives

Parties, Primaries, & Presidential Politics

There is both good and bad in the way we select our nation’s chief executive. The dominance of two political parties, a rather weird primary system, the influence of money on the process, and an electoral college system in lieu of a direct popular vote all seem to fly in the face of democratic ideals. We could do worse, but we could also do much better.

It is rather disquieting to realize that here, over a year away from the installation of a new president, an event in Iowa is likely to profoundly shape the prognosis for many contenders' chances to vie for that office. Those of us who do not live in early primary states can rightly question why a supposedly democratic process gives disproportionate influence to the citizens of a couple of relatively less populated states.

Now, I have nothing against Iowa or New Hampshire, and I would not characterize the primary process as tyrannical in the same way that radical thinker, O. T. Ford, does in his essay on the matter. Nonetheless, he raises a serious issue, and I do think we would do well to challenge the notion that these two states should retain their special status in perpetuity. And yet, there is actually something I like about this process. By "de-nationalizing" this small piece of the election, we are afforded an opportunity to observe the candidates ability to appeal directly to voters in settings where the pundits, the parties, and the Madison Avenue image-makers, take second fiddle to ordinary folks in town halls and public meetings.

As the essay author points out, Iowa and New Hampshire are not terribly representative of our nation as a whole, but there are some positives worth noting. Both generally score well when states are ranked in measures of quality of education. (Example 1 / Example 2) Looking at Iowa, we see a state which has an exemplary method, using an independent commission and strict rules, for drawing Congressional boundaries, thus avoiding the political gerrymandering which is rampant in most states. And Iowa does have a wholesome, middle-American image which lends to a belief that its residents will serve as reasonable evaluators of the presidential contenders. Still there is something fundamentally undemocratic about a process which puts the power to winnow our field of candidates in the hands of the citizens of the same handful of states each and every election year.

Most Americans who are familiar with our electoral college, can't help but be struck by its anti-democratic nature, and the effective disenfranchisement of minority views in non-competitive states. Again it is the citizens of a handful of states which are regularly competitive between the two major parties who get most of the attention, and hence have effectively more leverage in getting their agendas prioritized in Washington. There are mechanical and constitutional arguments for retaining the electoral college, but really it's downright archaic, weird, and unfair.

There is no constitutional basis, however, for the party system, the primary system, nor the influence of money on politics. Our elections do provide a mechanism for the voting public to keep bad leaders from retaining power indefinitely, and in that regard we should be grateful that puts us in better stead than the people in many of this world's nations. Even when evidence of institutional fraud suggests that close elections may have been incorrectly swung to the benefit of the ruling party of one state or another, so far it seems that fraud is insufficient to swing the outcome of a race which is not already close. Sadly, however, being able to oust one's leaders is not enough, when there is not a sufficiently democratic process in place to give us all a real voice about what the alternatives might be.

We are fortunate in these United States to be able to openly discuss the need to further democratize our process. We will be more fortunate still if we can move beyond discussion and actually implement improvements in spite of the political inertia which stands in their way.

Posted by Walker Willingham at December 31, 2007 2:30 PM
Comment #241860

Agreed! 100%

Posted by: KansasDem at December 31, 2007 2:52 PM
Comment #241861

It does not seem too much to ask in a democracy that the person that gets the most votes wins the election.

Posted by: Bills at December 31, 2007 3:32 PM
Comment #241869

The heartening thing is that more and more citizens seem concerned and involved via the Internet. I’m seeing it in postings like these, on other news and info sites, on opinion sites like, and all sorts of other places. Whatever the primary rules, things work better the more widely concerned the electorate is!

Posted by: Nick at December 31, 2007 5:43 PM
Comment #241885
It does not seem too much to ask in a democracy that the person that gets the most votes wins the election.

Perhaps you should work to change our form of government over to a Democracy first then?

But I agree, the primary system we have now is a joke. But it is a result of the state/national parties, not the government…

Posted by: Rhinehold at December 31, 2007 10:13 PM
Comment #241894

Thanks for useing a capital “D” in democracy.BTW I do.

Posted by: BillS at January 1, 2008 3:22 AM
Comment #241895

I think this is BS, too:

Fox, ABC News to Cut Back Debate Participants
ABC News and WMUR-TV “confirmed today that they have established performance-based criteria for Saturday night’s pair of presidential debates,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reports. “Those rules could leave several relatively well-known candidates on the outside looking in, including Democrats Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.”

In addition, FOX News “has invited only five presidential candidates to a GOP forum scheduled for Sunday night, leaving out Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter.”

The media has essentially eliminated 5 of the candidates without the voters having a say.

Posted by: Jane Doe at January 1, 2008 3:37 AM
Comment #241909

They would probably leave out Edwards also if they thought they could get away with it.

Posted by: BillS at January 1, 2008 4:02 PM
Comment #241913

I propose a new law.

If a candidate is legally on the ballot and can technically win an election (ie, just being on two states for president does not count) then that person has to be invited to any debate.

The days of our federal government blocking opposition through their control of the media has to end.

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 1, 2008 5:13 PM
Comment #241914
BTW I do

Ah, like that mob rule then? I hope you get your bible studies in as well as once that occurs we’ll all be forced to become Christians…

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 1, 2008 5:14 PM
Comment #241929
I propose a new law.

If a candidate is legally on the ballot and can technically win an election (ie, just being on two states for president does not count) then that person has to be invited to any debate.

The days of our federal government blocking opposition through their control of the media has to end.

Such a law would be completely unconstitutional.
News organizations and political parties are not “the federal government,” and a political party can’t be forced to include anyone in a debate who they don’t want to. Otherwise every Nazi and Communist would simply claim to be “Democrats” or “Republicans” and demand to share the stage.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 1, 2008 10:03 PM
Comment #241937

But doesn’t the Federal Government own the airwaves? Isn’t this how the government requires so much ‘public programming’ each month from each of the stations? Or enforce equal airtime laws? Aren’t these things required for continued licensing? (Note: I am against this, of course, the government should not own the airwaves…)

Granted, these only affect broadcast television…

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 2, 2008 12:01 AM
Comment #241938

RH & LO,

Well presumably the people own the airwaves, and the government licenses the frequencies for a fee, as a trustee of the people. Are politics involved? You bet! But determining a better alternative isn’t just a matter of removing all regulation. The licensing process keeps chaos at bay, as would happen if anyone with a transmitter simply started emitting signals at any frequency they chose. It does serve the public interest to have some predictability of programming based on the frequencies they choose to receive.

The FCC exists largely to balance concerns of equal access to the airwaves, regulating content for public consumption (a ripe source for controversy), providing an emergency broadcast system for times of crisis, keeping sufficient buffers between frequencies and geographies to preserve a clear signal, etc. etc. etc. When all things are considered, few would choose an entirely unlicensed system, but opinions understandably vary as to what considerations should go into granting licenses, determining fees, or restricting or mandating content.

To a degree, I agree with RH that access to power should not allow the “powers that be” to restrict political access to the “major players” by some insiders’ definitions. But where do you draw the line? Who draws the line? Absolute equanimity is probably not even possible, even if it were desirable. Still some rules to prohibit a few moneyed players from controlling the whole process seem called for here.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at January 2, 2008 12:34 AM
Comment #241939

In typing my last reply, I actually had radio in mind, when the earlier discussion had focused on television. Basically the same principle apply to either, though the cost of TV broadcasting (not considering licensing costs) is considerably higher. I personally am a big believer in the potential of radio because of its low overhead cost for accommodating minor players - as long as the rules don’t squash that potential by allowing the big boys to buy out all of the stronger frequencies - as has increasingly become the case.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at January 2, 2008 12:41 AM
Comment #241941

Does the fact that the people own the airwaves mean that when a football game is broadcast, you and I have just as much right to play in that game as anybody else? No.

The government has no more right to tell Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party, and/or CNN that when Hillary Clinton debates, Dennis Kucinich must be included than it has to tell the New England Patriots that Walker Willingham must have a turn to play as their quarterback.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 2, 2008 1:45 AM
Comment #241946

The licenses are conditional. That is what a license is for.ABC cannot decide to start running porn,for example.What ever the granter of the license stipulates are the terms the holder is bound too .They are free decline.

Brings up a point.For us to ever substantially reduce the power of money on elections part of the solution needs to be a requirement that broadcaster provide free airtime to serious candidates and restrict or eliminate purchased adds.Before we get post about restricting freedom of speech let me point out that candidates would be free to spend as much as they want on the print media hire skywriters,send letters to everybody etc.,just not on public airways.

Posted by: BillS at January 2, 2008 3:30 AM
Comment #241966

Aside from the fact that I should have started for the Seahawks this year (I’m working with Fox to make sure that happens next year)…

Those of us who do not live in early primary states can rightly question why a supposedly democratic process gives disproportionate influence to the citizens of a couple of relatively less populated states.

No… we cannot rightly question this…

I’ve tried to be clear about this before, and will attempt to do so again… primaries and caucuses for the two major parties are absolutely none of my business (other than as an interested observer). Seeing as how I belong to niether the Democrat nor Republican parties, I have no right whatsoever to question Iowa/New Hampshire’s status as early caucus/primary states.

We are not in the general election process right now… unless you are a card carrying party member, you have no inherent right to determine who should or shouldn’t represent the Republicrats in the general election. This is a private matter for private parties to decide who will represent them in November. This whole ‘Michigan and Florida potentially not getting their delegates counted at the conventions’ is a direct result of and clear example why government should not be involved in the party nomination process.

If you live in a state that you feel does not have an equal say in the nomination process, then join your local party and work to change the system, much like they did here in Nevada (we are the second state to hold their nominating caucuses this year).

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at January 2, 2008 1:33 PM
Comment #241991

Doug: while you may be right, technically speaking, all realism points to the simple fact that only one of the two major party candidates actually has any real chance of winning. It is not me making this up, it is verifiable history.

If we accept this, should we not then accept that all Americans should have a say in the process?

Posted by: New Guy on the Block at January 2, 2008 6:48 PM
Comment #242009

New Guy… uummm… in a word… no.

Your argument assumes the R’s and D’s are branches of government… they are not.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at January 2, 2008 9:41 PM
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