Thursday, January 3, 2008

Some Caution on the "race" for the nomination by Norman Markowitz

As we watch the election in Iowa, it might be of some use for us to examine the system for choosing candidates and see how it subverts what most people would consider a democratic process.

First primaries. They were developed by reformers more than a century ago as a way to keep nominations from being doled out by party machine controlled local and state conventions. Unfortunately they didn't do that so effectively, as party machines enlisted their organizations to win primaries. They did inflate the costs of the political process and enable wealthy individuals and big business interests to fund campaigns to elect either themselves or their preferred candidates. Their impact in "democratizing politics," most scholars across the political spectrum would agree, was limited, as corporate interests especially found them useful in eliminating political machines as middlemen and sometimes increasing their leverage to get what they wanted from those machines.

Also, as presidential primaries grew in importance,particularly after the Second World War, they also became the venues in and through which advertisers sold candidates as commodities the way advertisers marketed automobiles, beer and other consumer products. Engage in glittering generalities, use endorsements from popular figures, stress personality (the equivalent of packaging) and sustain interest by portraying the primary as essentially a sports event, something like a pennant race, where candidates like teams are relegated to the second division and eliminated until a strong team develops a big lead.

The primaries also became in essence an obstacle course for candidates. Advertisers used and use the bandwagon effect to eliminate less popular candidates before they really got a chance to present their positions to the electorate.

Lesser candidates would throw their support to what they regarded as a weaker major candidate to keep themselves in the race (they hoped) by weakening a stronger one (the way some candidates are apparently attempting to throw their support to Senator Obama in Iowa, where they have little support, to try to defeat Senator Clinton). As the process goes forward, the candidate who emerges from the pack is usually the best funded and the most compromised, having the nomination before the convention begins and making the convention into a very long infomercial.

There are a number of alternatives to this process. The first would be to have a national primary in which the candidates would campaign for a set period, two months let us say, and a runoff election if no candidate received a majority. Serious restrictions on the use of money before the primary election and access of all candidates to mass media on an equal basis would give the core constituencies of a political party, its registered members and most of all its activists, the decisive say in who the candidate would be.

Another alternative would be to revamp and democratize the convention process, establishing competitive elections for convention delegates from the local to the state to the national level, and a having the delegates run on platforms pledging themselves to support issues in the party platform (for example, repeal of the Taft Hartley law, ending the Iraq occupation).

I am raising these issues on our Blog not because I expect any of this to happen soon but because I think to that it is important for us not to get lost in the "race" (not to see an Obama or an Edwards or even a Kucinich victory as earth shaking, only to the victorious candidate come tumbling down in the next primary) which is exactly what mass media encourages the people to do as they passively watch the "election coverage", but to focus on both the issues that lead in the direction of democratizing U.S. politics and society, and the processes which lead in that direction. Marxists of all people should understand that the two are dialectically inter-related, and progressive and democratic policies will not emerge from undemocratic processes.

Norman Markowitz

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