Friday, March 16, 2007

A step toward a national primary; A step away from democracy

The 2008 presidential candidates are all drastically re-thinking their primary season strategies, now that California has moved its primary up to an early date of February 5. As a Californian, I'm supposed to be thrilled with the idea, and agree with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that:
Moving our presidential primary election from June to February means California will have the influence it deserves when it comes to choosing America's next presidential candidates.
But is it true that California previously had no influence on presidential primaries? And is this step toward a national primary actually a good thing for our democracy? I think it's possible that the answer to each to each of these questions is "no."

First of all, California has always had plenty of influence on the race, the question is simply, "What type of influence?" While the average voter has had to wait until June to let their voice be heard at the primary ballot box, California has always played an early and important role in the money primary.

Whether it's wooing liberals in Hollywood, talking to visionary libertarians in Silicon Valley, or reassuring traditional values ranchers in the Central Valley, candidates from every party and all political views come to California to meet, greet, and get a check from the leaders of the Golden State's three major industries.

While the average Californian doesn't get the same opportunity for face time with candidates the way they do in New Hampshire, we certainly are made aware of their visits, and have the chance to support our favorites by voting with our checkbooks.

So, the early primary doesn't really give us that much more voice in presidential matters. In fact, by forcing Californians to go on record earlier in the primary season, we actually get less of a chance to see how our candidates perform as they stump across the country, debate, and demonstrate their leadership skills and ideas.

And that, in fact, may be bad for our democracy. As more and more states join the rush to be among the early deciders, to "make their voice heard," we head a step closer towards establishing a single, national primary (or, at least a small number of "Super Tuesdays" that shorten the primary season to a handful of weeks).

This does not favor democracy. This does not favor debate, deep discussion, or the evolution of ideas. A national primary favors one thing above all else, and you know what it is: Money. It favors a recognized name and reputation, yes, but those things are just a part of money and establishment.

No room for underdogs or dark horses here. A pretty face, well recognized, and ready with a short sound-bite is all that will matter in the national primary.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the idea of testing a candidate, and getting to know him or her over a period of months, through a series of local and regional elections that get larger and more complicated throughout the year. Seeing who gets burnt out, and who gets stronger, is a big part of deciding who you think can lead the nation in times of adversity and stand up to greater challenges.

So, we Californians now have an early primary. Yippee. I'm so happy to live in such exciting times.

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