11 March 2016


Americans now appear to be heading towards the awful task of having to choose between a man who is abysmally ignorant regarding the constitution and government of the US, and who thinks that judges “sign bills,” and on the other side a candidate who will receive her party’s nomination….unless she is indicted. In the face of that the Republican leaders are starting to rally around a man that none of them can stand, but now Ted Cruz has improbably become the white knight for the Republican establishment, which is understandable given the alternatives of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Trump does not appear to have any brain trust, but since there is little evidence he possesses any kind of political philosophy, that becomes important because it will provide some indication of where he is likely to go.

How have we come to this, especially when this long campaign season began with such a promising field of potential Republican candidates?  The blame must fall on a seriously flawed modern electoral system which inherently yields flawed results, as we have seen with the past few presidents. It rewards people who can endure the marathon election cycle, and who are good at running for office, but not so much at governing. I’ve written on this in the past, and now more than ever believe that true reform of the political system can only occur by overhauling the way people are nominated, especially at the presidential level. My proposal is essentially this: that presidential candidates should be nominated by the elected officials of the respective parties. Who, after all, constitutes the party more than those who have been elected to office?  Who better to judge the character and capabilities of potential candidates than colleagues who are familiar with them? In the present environment this notion may finally gain more traction in congress. 

Against this it could be argued that “the people” ought to choose the candidates, reflecting the popular will. The trouble is “the people” as such don’t really make that choice. Only a small percentage of the population actually votes in primary elections, and they usually tend to be those who are both politically active and ideologically motivated. But the result is that extreme candidates tend to win these contests, which inevitably results in political polarization. It was not always this way. Primaries have only become decisive in modern times. Although primaries began as a progressive reform early in the last century they did not lead to the party nomination until 1960, with the election of John F. Kennedy. 

It is worth noting that Kennedy didn’t even announce his candidacy until January of 1960 for the election held in November that year. Today candidates start running the day after the last election, and in earnest at least two years before the actual election. The result is all politics all the time,  and a virtually permanent campaign. To sustain such a campaign over so long a period requires vast resources, which means endless fundraising as well. Under these circumstances it is futile to try and reform campaign financing because it is not the fundamental cause of the problem. It is rather the length of the campaigns that requires the resources.  Thus what we really need to do is limit the amount of time a campaign can take place in, as they do in the U.K. 

If elected officials nominated the presidential candidates and the campaign period was limited we would get better candidates, and an end to the ceaseless cacaphony of the permanent campaign. It is true that there are interests that might have a lot to lose under these conditions, such as campaign consultants, fundraisers, party hacks, but above all the media, which is primarily responsible for turning the whole thing into a circus. They anointed Obama and have now given us Trump. It is true that this proposal would cause huge amounts of advertising revenue to be lost and it might bring an end to coverage of the campaign as though it were a sporting event.  Then they might be compelled to provide more real news for a change. The political temperature would be lowered and as we have hit bottom with the current election campaign, this might lead to a restoration of faith in our institutions at long last. 

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