Thursday, March 06, 2008

Primaries & Caucuses

There's a lot of opinions floating around about the primary and caucus process. These kinds of pieces used to be focused on the special role of Iowa and New Hampshire, which really is indefensible, and demonstrably leads to irresponsible policies like ethanol subsidies. Now that it's clear that Iowa and New Hampshire weren't decisive, however, the focus has turned to the structure of the entire process, and whether caucuses, superdelegates, etc. are truly small-d democratic or not.

People are asserting a lot of rights that don't actually exist. After all, what do you really want out of a nominating process? In a perfect world, I'd prefer to see all the candidates in a single primary that passes through a rotating schedule of states, with the top two vote-getters going to the general. In 2008, that very well might have meant Obama and Clinton in November. But that's not the system we're ever going to get, nor would it be very appealing to partisans of right and left, since it provides maximum incentive for everyone to portray themselves as centrists.

In reality, the parties are trying to obtain a candidate that most reflects the ideals of the party faithful while still being appealing enough to the nation to win in the general election. There's no imperative here to be democratic, to "count every vote", to avoid disenfranchisement, or anything else. Is it really more appropriate to have a primary, where there can be many independents and crossovers, or a caucus that restricts the franchise to true believers? In reality, there's a strong argument for a mix of caucuses and primaries, to capture both objectives of the process. Perhaps it'd be better if every state had a Texas-like mix of both, but it's clear that the state-by-state hodgepodge is a pretty good second-best.

Similarly, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with dedicated party hacks (i.e., superdelegates) getting extra influence on the process. After all, if you're dissatisfied with the nominee, you can always vote for the other guy, unless you're a dedicated partisan.



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