Thursday, January 03, 2008

Electile Dysfunction

In recent weeks, the United States has stroked its collective chin about the honesty and validity of elections in Russia, Pakistan and Kenya. Today, Americans ought to be smacking their collective foreheads about the honesty and validity of election right here at home.

The Iowa caucuses are tonight and the New Hampshire primary is next Tuesday, and if history is any guide, the winner(s) have the best chance of becoming president. The only thing unusual is that for the first time in most of our lifetimes neither party has an incumbent president or vice president running. What is not unusual is that the Leader of the Free World is chosen in such haphazard manner in such unrepresentative states.

In both Iowa and New Hampshire, nothing is whiter than the snow today -- except their populations. Iowa is 95 percent white and New Hampshire 96 percent. Both are rural states. Together, they are representative of the American electorate to the extent that argyle socks are representative of men's fashion.

Polling such niche populations in states where Republicans can vote in Democratic caucuses or primaries tells you almost nothing, especially in Iowa, where turnout cannot be forecast but the weather can.

Nevertheless, a win in these first two states propels a candidate by opening up wallets of previously tentative contributors, winning headlines and TV coverage and creating a bandwagon effect. It is that television coverage, of course, that makes otherwise non-newsworthy and insignificant elections worldwide news and gives us a quadrennial rash of nincompoops elevated to the White House. Eventually, this Iowa/New Hampshire syndrome will be seen as one of the causes of the decline of the American Empire.

Here is where I differ from conventional wisdom. Because so many states vote early, and because each party has several well-funded and credible (as politicians go) candidates appealing to different constituencies, it is entirely possible that the nominations will not be decided as early as people fear. What if Hillary Clinton wins New York, Barack Obama wins California, Mitt Romney wins Michigan, Mike Huckabee wins South Carolina, Rudy Giuliani wins Florida etc.?

Of course, this is any journalist's pipedream, but there could be brokered conventions, based not only on the relative merits of each party's contenders but their perceived ability to beat a perceived opponent in the other party.

Unable to forgo the temptation to be embarrassingly wrong, here is how I predict tonight's contests, unwilling to even attempt to guess percentages.

Obama *
Edwards *
Clinton *
Biden (Secretary of State)
Richardson (Vice President)
Dodd (Attorney General)

Romney *
Huckabee *
McCain *
Giuliani *

And Kansas over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

We need a better system of choosing a president, and as a pundit once said (and you can read his New Hampshire reporting starting tonight) if your election lasts more than four months, consult a doctor.


  1. Anonymous3:30 AM

    You got the Democrats spot on..well the first three in order..and Huckabee took the GOP vote. Your analysis here now complements your explanation yesterday and I have to say, as a Brit with a completely different tradition, your concerns do appear valid.

    As I believe there is a super Tuesday (or is it Thursday?) when loads of primaries are held simultaneously it would seem a good idea if one day was chosen for all 50 states primaries so the effect of this media and backer inspired Presidential bandwagon would be nullified. Then Iowa and New Hampshire would not have the unrepresentative influence to which you draw attention. Still given that there is little federal interference in this voting process I suppose that's a pipe dream.

    Brian F.

  2. Anonymous6:35 AM

    I believe that Obama is wise enough not to take Richardson as VP. Much to my surprise, the man has shown himself to be a blowhard and, too often, not terribly bright.

  3. Brian,

    Now that my pick has actually won, I see nothing wrong with the Iowa process. The will of the people has been done. (Or, to quote the late and should-have-been 1976 Democratic nominee Morris Udall, "The people have spoken -- damn 'em!"

    I really had in mind the possibility that Clinton would eventually win the nomination and choose Richardson, who as a blowhard and not too bright fits the job description. The reason I think Clinton will win is because she will make sure everyone knows that he was the 20th hijacker and also kidnaped that English girl.

    Richardson could never be Obama's running mate, because then you would have two men of half color. There is probably a joke somewhere, but I am too tired to think of a nonoffensive one.