The Presidential Selection Process is Broken

Look, we might as well acknowledge it:

The presidency is for sale.

We have a ridiculous dog and pony show a full year earlier than we’ve ever seen before — a presidential campaign that began before all the 2006 votes were even counted; a presidential campaign show that gives the 24/7 news outlets an excuse to yabble on and on while the most criminal administration in US history gets plenty of cover from the (generally ridiculous) “Campaign 08” spectacle.

(This is, however, a windfall for that political class of consultants, pollsters, media consultants, et al, who are guaranteed full employment at least a year earlier than usual.)

Joke candidates like Fred Thompson (whatever happened to “qualifications” in American politics?) are viable PURELY because of name recognition; while the Mike Gravels and Ron Pauls are able to garner huge coverage from their “sideshow freak” status.

This is a unique moment in US politics. The mindless greed, the “ME FIRST” mentality that created this crisis in 2000 with the front-loading of the primaries (does anyone remember that John McCain BEAT Bush in New Hampshire?) has now multiplied exponentially.

“Super Tuesday” — originally set up to increase the influence of the “old South” in 1988 — was a bad idea to begin with. NOW, it’s a laughably quaint notion: “Hyper Tuesday” on February 5, 2008, will simply decide the issue, in a multi-state mega-primary that will make it all but impossible for ANY candidate to have any meaningful campaign presence in all of the states involved.

Without an astonishing amount of cash before February 5, you might as well just be in the process for the addicting ego-boost of being a sought-after candidate. (If you doubt the addictive quality of a presidential bid — even a HOPELESS one — just ask Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader)

Is it just me, or is there something irredeemably cheap; and tawdry about turning the selection of “Our Next President” into a high-tech game show? “American Leader”? The spectacle of the 9 or 8 or 15 Republican candidates in the Reagan Library, with an AIR FORCE ONE (!!?!) suspended in the hangar they were evidently debating in — it was Rupert Murdoch’s penultimate wet-dream of a game show. And every debate has been, while not as astonishingly surreal as that Reagan Library quiz-fest, at least a weird souped-up version of “Jeopardy!”

It will be a beauty contest, the selection of a pig in a poke (but NO poking the pigs, if you please). The entire original purpose of the primary season — testing and measuring the mettle of candidates in the crucible of the campaign — has been co-opted entirely. We might as well save ourselves the time and money and simply let the fat cats select the candidates in the smoke-filled back rooms again.

Because that’s what is happening. The “campaign” is just a diversion: a diversion from the REAL selection process, and from the continuing looting of the U.S. Treasury by … the same class that has neatly cut “We The People” out of the electoral process.

We get the shaft and “American Idol” for a full year, courtesy of the 24/7 presidential marathon, and the mice keep control of the cheese factory.

Great if you’re a billionaire. Sucks for the rest of us.

Worse, at least in the case of the GOP, we have a “debate” process utterly untethered to reality. A slick, phony Mitt Romney can state that he’d like to double Guantanimo, and not a laugh is heard. The other nine or ten or twelve candidates can pretend that Iraq was a just war, and torture can be justified — all as if these were “American” values. They debate phony plotlines for episodes of “24” — which they even REFER to in the ‘debate.’

We’re living in a Philip K. Dick novel. That’s why absurdity doesn’t work now. You can’t make absurd that which is ALREADY absurd.

Because reality is whatever can be presented in the media, which are now owned by, again, that same class that has cut us out of the process. The broken “campaign” serves that class in every possible manner: it diverts attention from their current depredations, while preserving the illusion of a “fair” campaign selection process. Neither is true: both are sham.

Meantime, we follow the candidates’ fundraising, as though we were following an NBA partial score.

Thus far, in many ways, this is all a non-event: the desperate hope of the second tier candidates is to garner name-recognition, the hope of the first tier candidates is to so fill their campaign coffers that they can drown their opposition in a flood of sheer coin.

But the bottom line is this: the presidential selection will almost undoubtedly be over in the SECOND week of primary voting. Iowa will be followed with the Nevada caucuses, for an additive sideshow.

Here’s the schedule from the Democratic website:

The addition of 2 states early in the process will also open up the dialogue to engage a broader range of people to talk about a wider variety of issues. This will enable the Democratic Party to choose the strongest candidate to be our Presidential nominee.

The new schedule is as follows:

  • Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucus on January 14.
  • New Hampshire holds the first-in-the-nation primary on January 22.
  • Nevada conducts a caucus between Iowa and New Hampshire on Saturday, January 19.
  • South Carolina holds a primary 1 week after the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, January 29

The regular window will open for all other states on the first Tuesday in February — February 5, 2008.

THAT FOLLOWING WEEK, virtually everybody else will vote.

If it isn’t over by then, it will be by the end of February.

In 2000, it was over by March. In 2004, it was over by March. Whoever had the most cash won. In 1968, by contrast, it wasn’t “over” until Bobby Kennedy won the California primary in JUNE (and was assassinated moments later, throwing the process into a chaos that would culminate with the “old boy” nomination of Hubert Humphrey and the splitting of the Democratic party that allowed Tricky Dick Nixon to snatch the White House).

But in the modern era, increasingly, the frontloading of the primaries has recreated the old Golden Rule of Gilded Age politics: he who has the gold doesn’t need to follow the rules.

And that’s the key: Whoever had the most cash won. George Bush’s backers knew that. They banked on it (literally) by making sure that Bush was so floating in cash that a McCain candidacy — which would have crushed Bush in any prior primary campaign — never got off the ground, because McCain could not possibly raise the obscene amounts of sheer cash needed to be competitive in each state by March of 2000.

But you BUY your way into “American Leader.” It’s the only game show where it’s OK to buy your questions and sell your answers. And, you pay the game show, not vice versa.

Please note that their “investment” in Bush’s campaign has PERSONALLY paid out in excess of what they contributed to the Bush campaign in 2000, via tax cuts. They actually MADE money on the deal. Which may be why so much effort has been put into “hot-wiring” the electoral process this year.

In prior years, the primary season allowed time for ‘dark horse’ candidates to move to the forefront, to raise money after surprise wins, and to move to a level of parity with the frontrunners.

In fact, the frontrunner has nearly ALWAYS stumbled. In 1972, Ed Muskie was the frontrunner all through the 1971 silly season, but self-destructed in New Hampshire (thanks to Donald Segretti, and his fledgling dirty tricks apprentices, e.g. Karl Rove).

It was eerily reminiscent of the well-timed “hit” that was put on John Kerry over a “controversial” joke that was suddenly trumpeted by our moribund and moronic echo machine.

Er … I mean media.

The presidential selection process is broken: whoever raises the most obscene amount of cash by the end of 2007 will almost certainly win the primary.

And THEN what do we do? From March 1 to the deep summer of 2008, both parties will have nothing else to do but raise and spend money to destroy the character, candidacy and credibility of the respective opponents. (Given past history, advantage: GOP).

They can then play electoral games by trying to schedule their convention as late as is humanly possible (as Bush and Rove did in 2004) since the Federal campaign funds — from that box that nobody checks off on their income taxes anymore — aren’t given to the campaign until after the official nomination.

All of which are not in the least democratic (small ‘d’), nor in the interests of “We The People.”

The presidential selection process is broken, and we’re being snow-jobbed with an obscenely early campaign that masks the inconvenient truth:

Never has big money so controlled the selection of a president. The so-called “grass roots,” conversely, has never been so neatly culled from the process.

And nobody’s talking about it.

Maybe they should.

Courage.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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9 Responses to The Presidential Selection Process is Broken

  1. Ginny Cotts says:

    At least there are a few candidates getting into this process with small donations – Obama of course leading that pack.

    Still creates the issue of how much time and effort they have to spend raising money. The early game show/circus seems to be preliminary races to get the big gamblers the incentive to put their money on the potential winners.

    Meanwhile, the John and Jane voters are mad at Congress because they haven’t accomplished enough since the 2006 vote for change.

    We sure hope the voting records of presidential candidates do not reveal a lot of missed votes.

  2. I say, bring back the guillotine, at least on a temporary basis.

    If we worked it right, it could be a game show/reality show with MEGA star appeal:

    “Who Wants To Be Decapitated?” or

    “Head or No Head?” (We can keep Howie Mandel.)

    Or, “Dying With The Stars”? “Dead Factor”? “The Great Final Resting Place.” Or, just “Big Brother”?

    Or how about “REAL Jeopardy”:

    “Tom Tancredo, as the son of immigrants, why do you hate poor immigrants with no rights, no prospects and slave labor conditions, instead of the people who hire them JUST TO PUT Americans out of work?”

    Tancredo: I … uh, er, I mean …

    Unctious Host: Whoops! The buzzer sounded, and you know what that means! Right, AUDIENCE?

    AUDIENCE (with that “Wheel of Fortune” kind of meter): OFF .. WITH … HIS HEAD!

    Come to think of it, “Wheel of Fortune,” would be a good format, with some very minor changes.

    Vanna White could remain, but she would knit, instead.

  3. mbk says:

    I also agree that the process is broken, along with the media, which you’ve most aptly described moribund and moronic echo machine. Very depressing times.

  4. Darrell Prows says:

    Politicians are in total control of the political process (what actual control “the people” have being limited to the electoral process) and looking to them for revolutionary change of that process is simply not realistic.

    Under our system the forum for systemic change from the grass roots up is a Constitutional Convention. It is the only place we have where we can both talk about matters, and then actually and directly do something about them.

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  6. I wish that I had an answer. A Constitutional Convention may well be a solution and is long overdue, but without widespread support of some sort, I don’t see it happening.

    Certainly, until and unless “We The People” NOTICE that, like Disneyland, it only LOOKS like “New Orleans Square,” and bears no other resemblance to a real electoral process, that widespread support for a convention or any other solution will remain absent.

    “Bread and circuses” was more than a catch phrase — it was a recipe for the Roman tyranny. Keep ’em fat and entertained.

    Gee. I wonder where we might find a parallel to THAT notion in today’s USA?

    We are historically at that point where Republic ends and Empire begins, and, while I believe in human evolution, I also believe in historical cycles, and right now, there is no model for continuation of a democratic process, and EVERY model for the usurpation of power by a small cabal (cf. the Bushies) and eventually, ONE supreme ruler.

    Until and unless we’re willing really show would-be tyrants that “We The People” mean business, we might as well be advertising for a coup.

    Bush has proven it possible. We only lack a team in power unscrupulous enough to go the extra couple of baby steps.

    The guillotine suggestion was only mean HALF facetiously.

  7. Darrell Prows says:

    A Constitutional Convention would be a solution, and I don’t see it happening either However, I’ve been advocating it for thirty years so I don’t see any reason to stop now.

    In a nation with 200,000,000 millionn firearms amd a military where most members would shoot themselves before they would shoot us I don’t see us going to a dictatorship. There’s no need for that anyway. Those we have to fear the most first “rented” the Whitehouse with Reagan, and have done well enough with the process over time that I doubt they feel a real need to fix what ain’t broken.

    It’s us that ain’t doing real great, it ain’t “them”.

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