08 March 2016
THE TROUBLE WITH DEMOCRACY
I am a life-long Republican. I have voted in every general election (State/Commonwealth and federal) as well as local, off-year, and primary elections since I reached the age of 22. (I was 18 in 1964, but the 26th Amendment was not ratified until 1971.) I have voted for only one Democrat for President—Jimmy Carter in 1976, to my undying regret and shame—although I have split my ticket in many other elections in order to vote for the person I thought best qualified.
And now, I find myself facing a moral quandary. I hold the sovereign franchise in the highest esteem, especially because I have served with young men who, with their very lives, defended the right to vote although they themselves were not yet old enough to cast a ballot. I will vote in an uncontested election for dog-catcher in honor of their sacrifice. But this year………
Why, I ask myself, is the choice being offered to the American people so abysmal this year? On one ticket, the choice so far is split between an unprincipled (“principle-less”) liar whose moral compass is fixed only on what is best for her, and a self-professed Socialist, whose platform is nothing more than “bread and circuses.” They got rid of the only candidate I could have gladly voted for, Senator Jim Webb (with whom I served in Vietnam.) I would have split my ticket for him—in a heartbeat. He is the only candidate in either party who has moral courage and who saw fit to put himself … "between [our] loved home and the war's desolation!"
In my own party, it now appears that a blow-hard game show host with no political experience whatsoever may be our candidate. The only two possible counter-candidates at this point are Senators who have never worked anywhere other than in government.
Why are there no more Thomas Jeffersons, Andy Jacksons, Abe Lincolns, and Ike Eisenhowers? I propose that there are two answers to that question.
First and foremost is the democratization of the nominating process. The widespread change to binding primaries in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s have, generally speaking, been a disaster for our Country. Just think of the candidates one party or another have been offered by use of the primary: George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry for the Democrats. Only Bill Clinton was truly a sound candidate, although if Ross Perot had not run, it is clearly possible that George HW Bush might have won re-election in 1992.
The Republicans have done a little better: Bob Dole and John McCain, but they were not the strongest, most electable candidates. Only Ronald Reagan, one of the greatest Presidents in my lifetime (I was alive when Harry Truman was elected in 1948) and in our National history, came from a primary fight. So, two Presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are the only top tier Presidents (out of 44) to have come to the Presidency by way of the binding primary election process.
Think of the Presidents who have come from open conventions in the strong president eras: Lincoln, TR, Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, Ike, JFK. Before that, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson were chosen by people who were concerned with the political process or delegates to conventions, all of them people who were willing, in the favorite modern catch phrase so beloved of the Democrat Party, to “compromise.” Eleven of 44, which is pretty good, when one considers the totality of American history.
The Democrats learned their lesson after the McGovern debacle and instituted the “super delegate” into their process. Although it still allows for run-away “democracy” when a candidate garners enough votes from a few large states early in the process, the threat or ability of Party professionals to block a clearly incompetent candidate is usually there. I say usually, because Senator Clinton is leading in delegates in part because she has garnered the support of almost all Democrat super delegates who have announced their preference. The Republican Party also decided to use super delegates to a significantly lesser degree (not more than three per State or Commonwealth and pledged to the candidate who won their home vote).
Does anyone think that an open primary would come close to nominating Donald Trump for President? I pray not. But the "people" have spoken! To paraphrase, “presidential nominations are too important to be left to the masses.” For the historically illiterate, that is the exact reason for the Founding Fathers’ creation of the Electoral College.
But there is also another reason that the current system is so fallible—the modern media. Really qualified candidates, candidates who could become great presidents, are simply unwilling to submit themselves and their families to the predatory, Pulitzer Prize hunting, pursuit of every person with a cell-phone and a blog who thinks that he or she is the equal of William Allen White and Woodward and Bernstein, when they are really the direct descendants of William Randolph Hearst. Couple that with our modern society’s lust for the vicious attacks that mark “reality TV,” and no reasonable person would be willing to run. Yes, I know about “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” and “Continental liar from the State of Maine!”, but the 19th Century electorate were not bombarded with such tripe 24/7.
So…I hold out little hope for the next presidency. Perhaps the Nation will learn from its necessary choice of the lesser of two evils in 2016 and opt for a return to the open convention.
In the meantime, we can hope that the Bismarckian quip from the 19th Century still holds true: “God watches over drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”