I feel compelled to at least make a small mention of the presidential election held last week – an election that followed a nearly two-year long campaign that appeared to obsess newspapers, radio, television, and the internet, and cost perhaps a billion dollars. That last part may not even be an exaggeration.
For the record, I am not unhappy about the outcome of this election. But for those who are, and for everyone who is troubled by the ideological divide in the United States (and I count myself in that group), I offer my take on what is needed to return us to something approaching reasonable political discourse.
- First, all states should have open primaries. Anyone, whatever his party affiliation, can vote for the nominees for each party. This would instantly end the extremism that has taken hold in American politics. True, some “purists” would not like to see their parties nominate candidates who don’t subscribe to all of their respective movements’ positions, but if your guy ends up losing, what good has your “pure” candidate done you? Wouldn’t you prefer to have the winner be a person whom you don’t find completely repugnant? Primaries don’t always produce the most electable candidates. Republicans smarting at their latest losses ought to consider that some of their candidates were astonishingly unelectable*. Mitt Romney, who in his heart of hearts is probably a mostly moderate sort of guy, nevertheless had to run so far to the right to get his party’s nomination, that the positions he assumed during the primaries came back to haunt him, even as he clearly tried to tack back closer to the center.
- Second, all national races should be publicly funded. The little check box on your 1040 form would be filled in for you. No candidate could solicit or accept outside money. No PACs, no “issue advertising” that supposedly doesn’t endorse specific candidates but really does. But what about free speech? The candidates are free to say whatever they like to whomever will listen. You’re free to go door-to-door and tell all your friends and neighbors. But I don’t see how some rich donor(s) with deep pockets giving unlimited money to elect a candidate does anything other than corrupt those who are elected to public office. So, whether your enemies are the Koch Brothers or the teachers unions, you could rest a little easier knowing that the candidates were not bought and paid-for by special interests.
- Eliminate the Electoral College. I know all the arguments for it. Some are compelling, others less so. But none, I feel, offsets the truly ravaging effects of a victory going to the popular vote loser. If you were someone untroubled by George W. Bush’s election, ask yourself how you would have felt had Romney won the popular vote this time around while still losing badly in the Electoral College. I didn’t believe that would happen, but some feared it could, and had it, I suspect there would have been tremendous unrest. And the anger would be justified. It strikes most reasonable people as bizarre that the person receiving the most votes could lose to someone receiving fewer. But that isn’t even the best reason to get rid of the Electoral College (at least not for the purposes of this essay). The best reason is to get candidates to stop focusing on, at most, ten states, leaving the other forty completely left out. Now, perhaps the people of Georgia and Oregon find television much more entertaining without all the political commercials, but when fate of the country hinges on Ohio alone, there’s a problem. Candidates would have to make an effort to familiarize themselves with the issues affecting voters in vastly different parts of the country. It wouldn’t all be about Cubans in Miami, or autoworkers in Ohio.
These three changes, if enacted today, would produce a 2016 presidential election that would be unlike any we have endured in a quarter century. If we do nothing, it’s never going to get better.
*My admittedly partisan, but completely fair analysis of the election is as follows:
While it is true that most people are disappointed that the country hasn’t done better than it has over the past four years, they still preferred sticking with President Obama.
You can believe it was just better marketing on the part of Democrats, but Republicans had just as much money, and, in any event, the Romney campaign believed until election day that it had the superior marketing campaign. So you can believe people like Charles Krauthammer who will tell you that it wasn’t the Republicans’ ideas, but simply the way they presented their message that turned voters off, but Krauthammer was so profoundly wrong in his predictions that I wouldn’t trust him with any future ideas. His advice will only cost Republicans the next election.
You can listen to the people who claim that Republicans lost because they nominated a “Republican in Name Only”, instead of a genuine conservative. Well, it isn’t my place to say who is a “genuine conservative” and who isn’t, but it only stands to reason that if your guy wasn’t conservative enough, he wouldn’t lose to the “most liberal president in history” (a label that is ridiculous, by the way).
Now, some people will tell you that it was all demographic changes, and while changing demographics has something to do with it, it’s not even close to the whole story, and it ignores several important factors. Yes, blacks and Hispanics turned out in pretty big numbers, and they voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. So did homosexuals. So did single women. But blacks and Hispanics and homosexuals and single women are Americans, and like Americans of any stripe, a candidate who wants to win their votes needs to give them something to like. Hard lines on immigration and gay marriage and health care reform are not going to win you those groups. The question you have to ask yourself is, which do I value more, my socially conservative positions, or winning?
A few comments on RedState.com put it well:
It’s not just marketing; it’s much of the actual message from the right that kills us. When will you discover the courage to face the reality that social conservatism is a loser? When will you admit that social conservatism is what causes us to lose elections?
If mainstream Republicans went on TV and said, “My religious beliefs are personal; politically, I believe in separation of church and state”, we could win every election in this country. The left wants to force collectivist, backwards economics on us–and the mainstream right wants to force collectivist, backwards “social policy” on us. You’re both wrong, and for the same reasons–you want to force your goofy beliefs on others. – Libertarius
I agree that it’s not just marketing and I also agree that social conservatism is an anchor on the core GOP message of smaller government. This isn’t 2004, when gay marriage was a winning issue. Gay marriage happened, the world didn’t end, and support rises every year. It isn’t a matter of IF that plank will be removed, it’s a matter of WHEN. – GremlinJones
Bill O’Reilly can lament it all he wants, but the country is changing. I don’t know anyone my age opposed to marriage equality. I don’t know anyone my age who doesn’t believe in evolution, or that global warming is happening. I don’t know anyone my age who is more afraid of “government-run” healthcare than corporate-run healthcare. I’m not saying these people don’t exist. But I am saying that they are few in number among the younger generation – the present and future voters of America.
Democrats probably no longer need fear Republican candidates who mobilize the Evangelical vote on an anti-abortion/anti-gay/anti-science platform. What Democrats should fear is a Republican candidate who does just what Libertarius proposes. A lot of people like President Obama personally, and clearly most people preferred him to Mitt Romney. But if Mitt Romney hadn’t been so extreme, he would have handily won. Not recognizing this will make winning hard for Republicans moving forward.
Filed under: Current Events, Politics on November 16th, 2012 | No Comments »