January 4, 2008

Celebrity Politics

I'm watching C-SPAN coverage of one of the Iowa republican caucuses last night. Gotta say I'm jealous that republicans get to vote for their first choice of a presidential candidate. The Iowa Democratic Party doesn't let us do that.

I think the Iowa Democratic caucus system is outdated, because its format combined with bad campaign financing rules and celebrity media coverage basically ensures that 2nd tier candidates can't survive the first test in the nation. Republicans don't have that problem. I mean, does anybody think Ron Paul would have actually received 10 percent in Iowa if he had to reach a 15 percent viability threshold in every precinct? Would Dodd or Biden have dropped out of the race already if they had emerged with 10 or 14 percent? I doubt it. Yet, these candidates with much more relevant experience but not enough money to purchase celebrity from the mainstream media walked away with nothing. They were disproportionately disadvantaged by the democratic party's caucus rules in Iowa which requires that at least 15 percent of the caucus goes in every district support a candidate. If not, then their supporters must pick a different candidate, which is exactly what happened in most precincts on Jan 3. Over 10 percent of the caucus goes in my precinct would have supported Joe Biden for president last night, but we were just a few people short of the 15 percent threshold needed for our support of him to be counted. Instead, we had to splinter off to Obama, Clinton or Edwards as a second choice.

Imagine this possible scenario... Biden, Richardson, and Dodd each get 14 percent (14x3 equals 42 percent combined). That leaves just 58 percent of support to split between Obama, Edwards and Clinton (just 19 percent each). Now, instead of the media's favorite candidates walking away with what looks like 30 percent leads, they actually emerge with just single-digit leads. I didn't even figure Kucinich into those figures. Do so and you could have people "winning" the Iowa caucuses by only a few percentage points (or theoretically you could have a statistical tie). Think that would influence supporters and change future fund raising efforts?

Come on, Iowa Democrats. What's the rush to wipe out ALL of our 2nd tier candidates??? That's what happened this year. As the first in the nation test, it should be a test of initial support among registered democrats in the midwest before campaigns move on to other states. The democratic caucuses should not serve as a mechanism to weed out as many people as possible, leaving only those with overwhelming amounts of cash, celebrity and media coverage. Unfortunately, that seems to be the current situation for democrats, and I think it may ultimately cause Iowa to lose it's first in the nation status and the huge economic impact that it has on our state.

Something just seems outdated or wrong with this system in the current climate of media consolidation and out-of-control campaign financing. Perhaps the 15 percent threshold should be lowered to something that could still weed out candidates that aren't even getting 1 or 2 percent of their voters to turn out. Or perhaps we should throw it out and do like republicans. Whatever the case, I think something needs to change. The presidential election in this country is beginning to feel more like American Idol than a serious deliberation of key issues and pragmatic solutions.

1 comment:

  1. Gary and I thought this was very
    good and just wanted you to know
    that we agree with so many of your
    points !! Great writing
    Keep it up! mom