I’ve been resistant to delving into political topics on this blog, mostly out of fear that I might expose too much about my own ignorance. I do tend to follow political debate (particularly at the national level) quite a bit, though. As a registered Democrat that will almost certainly end up supporting and voting for whichever candidate becomes that party’s nominee, I have certainly been taking a lot of interest in the 2008 primary season.
I disagree with the increasingly widespread commentary accusing the Democratic Party of self-destructing simply because both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still active candidates with more than 3 months remaining before the party convention and with several states still having yet to have their primaries. As I see it, the Democrats are prompting a fair amount of criticism and doomsday predictions simply because the candidate selection process is working essentially as designed. This primary instead seems to be illustrating how the basic method being used to select candidates usually doesn’t work very well and has largely become an outdated relic of a very different time.
I think that the result of the Republican nomination is much more troublesome, although very typical of the process for both parties during the typical modern election, including all the ones since I’ve been eligible to vote. John McCain was widely accepted to have clinched his party’s nomination after the March 4th round of primaries, even though the primary season still had several months to go. Much has been made about the voters of Florida and Michigan being disenfranchised in the selection of the Democratic candidate due to those states violating party rules regarding scheduling, but it is that really worse than the fact that the Republican primaries in 10 states have ended up being basically irrelevant?
The extended, highly staggered primary process made quite a bit of sense in a time when traveling from state to state could take days or weeks and when 24-hour news networks and the Internet weren’t available as a means for the candidates and parties to get their views, positions, and even personalities quickly and widely disseminated to every part of the country. In today’s era of air travel and mass communications, though, campaigning for a simultaneous, nationwide primary would certainly be feasible and would avoid large portions of the population from being essentially disenfranchised from the selection of the candidates. There might be a grain of truth in the concern that such a system could pretty sharply reduce the importance and influence of smaller states and rural communities, but the current system usually seems to have largely the opposite effect, which really seems to make even less sense. I really hope that this year’s primary will prompt some serious discussion of this long overdue change.