Dump the Primaries


Land o’ Goshen, holy mackerel and my goodness gracious, folks, but we are facing 20 months of a presidential campaign. We’re going to learn more than we want to know about this large field of candidates. Just think of all the polls and all the political analyses heading our way.

Money is the problem. These candidates have to raise so much money, they probably figured that the sooner they started, the better off they would be. After all, there are relatively limited numbers of sugar daddies who can raise big bucks in both parties. Some people are saying this campaign will cost, all told, a billion dollars.

Personally, I’m glad my TV got zapped by lightning. I think I’ll put off getting it repaired for about 18 months. Two months during the homestretch will do me fine.

It’s useless to speculate about who’s ahead this far out. The world will be a different place by the summer of 2008. One thing we all ought to start thinking about, however, is some way to take money out of the equation. Our present system means we will have as a president the candidate with the largest satchel full of political IOUs. It also means that the candidates will be forced to spend their time begging for money rather than thinking about ways to solve the nation’s problems.

The feather I always float (columnists can’t afford balloons) is to abolish the primaries. That’s what runs up the costs. Primary elections are one of those reform movements that went sour. The original idea was to let the people choose their candidates, rather than the political bosses in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.

Well, all too often these days people don’t show much interest in primaries, and far fewer people smoke. It would be much cheaper to let the political parties choose delegates to state conventions. That way, presidential candidates would only have to campaign with the delegates rather than squandering millions of dollars in television advertising.

We might even get to the point where no candidate would have a majority by the time the national convention rolled around. Those of you too young to have seen a national convention when the nomination is still up for grabs have missed out on what used to be one of the most exciting dramas in American politics. The present system nullifies the national convention, which has turned into a staged television production, the outcome already known before it begins.

The majority of Americans fall into what professional campaign managers call the apathetic middle. They aren’t really interested in politics. On the other hand, there are those who love politics and play the game full time. Since they have the interest and tend to know more about the candidates and the issues, they should be the ones who choose the nominees. A state convention system would allow them to do so.

At the same time, it would be an open system. Anybody who wanted to could run for the job of delegate. This system would restore the political parties as being grass-roots organizations. At the present time, the parties act more or less like United Way. They just raise money.

The present system ends up giving us a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, both the choice of the very rich in this country. It is a simulated, not a genuine, democracy.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.