Sunday, September 02, 2007

Signs of the apocalypse

Plagues and disasters...

...the dead rising from their graves... agreeing with the New York Times on anything:

The presidential primary system is broken. For years, the nominating process has unfolded in an orderly, if essentially unfair, way. The schedule has worked very nicely for early-voting states, which have had a steady stream of would-be presidents knocking on their doors, making commitments on issues like the Iowa full-employment program, also known as the ethanol subsidy. The losers have been states like New York and California, which have often gotten to vote only when the contests were all but decided. Issues that matter to them, like mass transportation, have suffered.


The states bucking the system are right about a larger point: the nominating process must be changed. An ideal system would start slowly enough that candidates who are not well-known or well-financed can score some early victories or at least show well. At the same time, it would allow larger states to participate early enough in the process that their voters could play a significant role in choosing the nominees. It would spread out primary days over a long enough time that a true campaign could emerge, rather than the near-national primary that is likely to occur next Feb. 5.

Many worthy reform proposals are circulating. One calls for dividing the nation into four regions and having them vote in sequence: one in March, another in April, and the last two in May and June. In future elections, the regions would vote in a different order. Unfortunately, a leading version of this plan calls for Iowa and New Hampshire to keep voting first. Another appealing idea, the “American Plan,” starts with small states and moves onto larger ones, so long-shot candidates can build momentum, but it does an especially good job of ensuring that voters from all states have a reasonable chance of voting early in the primary season.

The two parties should begin a discussion of the best reform proposals now, and plan on having a new system in place for 2012. The presidential nominating process is too important to American democracy to be allowed to descend into gamesmanship and chaos.

I, for one, like the "American Plan." It would let small states matter by virtue of their early, high-profile primaries, while also letting the largest states matter by making it very hard for candidates to accumulate enough delegates to sew up the nominations before the later primaries.

One way or another, we can't have the presidential campaign starting within months of the midterm elections like we did this time. With so much time to campaign and build up before the primaries, this election smacks of trench warfare at its very worst--long, drawn-out, brutal struggles to gain perhaps a foot or two of ground at a time, at astronomically high costs.

Doing it that way once has already been more than enough.


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