Saturday, March 12, 2005

In the Northeast, we are right now in the middle of a pretty huge blizzard which is thankfully hitting us on a weekend instead of the middle of the week. This inclement weather is allowing folks like me to bundle up in the house and wait for enough snow to fall so that I can go out and snow blow without it being a wasted effort. The storm also allowed for the opportunity to sit in front of the TV watching C-Span - and the first hearing of the Democratic National Committee’s Commission on Presidential Nominations.
Unfortunately, only the first segment of the discussion was aired. Around lunch, C-Span cut to repeats of budget hearings. But what I did see was extremely interesting, with a lot of history being shared about previous commissions and campaigns. There was a very fascinating historical presentation by a woman from the JFK School, Dr. Kamarck, or something, where she solidified the importance of having the first primaries and caucuses in small states. She also made a plug for Iowa and New Hampshire keeping their places. After a few questions, she was whacked by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan who has a recent history of trying to strip New Hampshire of its First in the Nation Primary. He even interrupted her when she was trying to answer one of his questions - which can happen sometimes at these things. It also made me think back to the initial introductions where I noticed that the state of Michigan seemed to have three folks on the panel representing their interests where other states only seemed to have one or two members. Why does Michigan get three? Why do the others only get two? New Hampshire seemed responsibly represented by former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Terry Schumaker, an executive director with the NEA here in the state. But other states didn’t seem to have a voice at all.
There were also some interesting comments made by [I believe] Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland professor, about how the first states weren’t diverse enough and how fringier candidates like the Rev. Al Sharpton should be taken seriously by the party and the voters. While he makes a valid point about the lack of darker skin tones in both states, he ignores the fact that both Iowa and New Hampshire are diverse in other ways - like in economics. Skin color isn’t the only measure of “diversity.” Personally, I hate it when politicos get obsessed with skin color as if it should be a measuring stick for access to power or, that somehow, folks who are not people of color can’t relate to the trials and tribulations of our nation’s minority populations.
The interests of the DNC are not necessarily the interests of the voters when setting their calendar. This is clear from the previous results of commissions and DNC chairmen who have set the primaries up to be front-loaded - with the false impression that getting an early winner would allow that winner to compete more aggressively and, eventually, win. The DNC is interested in winning back the White House - not necessarily setting up a calendar of primaries which empowers voters and people into making the best decisions for the party. Levin’s relevance is to remove New Hampshire from the picture; just as Shaheen’s is to preserve our role. The goal of the commission, however, shouldn’t be to strip Iowa and New Hampshire of our status. It should be to set a calendar that creates a primary and caucus schedule that allows as many states as possible to have the retail political experience.
But it isn’t just the calendar that matters. It is also the media and the candidates who decide how long a campaign should be waged and whether other states have a role in participating.
In 2004, I thought most of the candidates quit too early. By the end of February, most were gone. Two of the candidates - Sen. Bob Graham and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun - quit before a vote was even cast. Another candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who could have waged a more relevant campaign had he not “changed his mind” on abortion and ran as a pro-life Democrat, stayed true to his message to the very end, giving his voters a reason to go to the polls, even though he was never going to win the presidency [As an aside, Kucinich did score some pretty good numbers in late contests - 26 percent in Alaska, 17 percent in Minnesota, 12 percent in Colorado, 12 percent in North Carolina, 10 percent in Kansas - it just wasn’t enough to make much difference - or even win many delegates].
Other candidates could have stayed in longer or forged alliances to beat the clearly unelectable John Kerry. There was a point in mid- to late-February where the Howard Dean and John Edwards forces needed to have a serious sit down - not the one they did have which led to nothing. Dean had amassed a number of super delegates and Edwards was surging as the Kerry alternative. The two of them together could have led to a stronger ticket than the Kerry fronted ticket. Imagine, no Swift Boats, no Massachusetts liberal [especially if Dean was VP], very little flip-flopping. Edwards would’ve easily beaten President Bush in the debates and Dean would have easily beaten Dick Cheney. It would have been a stronger ticket, Ralph Nader still would have only been a minor footnote, and the Democrats would have been stronger going into the final election.
Then, there is the media, which has done a pretty poor job of covering the candidates in the past. Gone are the days of relatively thorough, and decent coverage of the candidates; in are the days where a candidate’s howling at a campaign event is repeated over and over again to the point of personal destruction. It's not like he was tagging an intern or anything. There is also the issue of the Washington, DC cocktail crowd who always seem to manage to wreck everything with their pomposity and arrogance.
Another point: While there has been a lot of testimony by Democrats to the committee, the one thing missing - so far - is any response from non-insiders who might have interesting ideas about how to fix the system. Almost everyone on the panel is either an elected official [or former elected official] or some sort of party hack - for lack of a better term. I guess the regular watchers of the process will have to leave our comments to columns and remarks made on radio talk shows.

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