Saturday, December 1, 2007

DNC tells Michigan to F*** Off

There is something inherently undemocratic when it's the national Democratic Party in the States, not the state parties, that gets to decide who's on first. In a not too unexpected move, the DNC vote to strip Michigan of its 156 delegates today because the state wanted to have its primary on January 15th, after Iowa and New Hampshire but ahead of the other two "me first" state of South Carolina and Nevada. While many suspect it's more of a suspension and that the Great Lakes State will get its delegates back in time for the convention it raises a serious problem in my mind. Well two.

The first issue, of course, is that American elections are way too long. With the big semi-national primary on February 5th, voters in the United States will effectively have a nine month election. Here in Canada and indeed in most of the industrial democracies, elections are a mere four to six weeks.

If an election gets too long, people get disengaged. And it'll be the media, not the people, who determine the parameters of the discussion -- even with new media such as You Tube.

It would make more sense to have the primaries and caucuses in the spring, with four regional primary dates rotated between the Northeast, Midwest, West and the Confederacy every four years. Many in the States have advocated this and it just makes sense. It would make campaigning a lot saner. Coupled with this, however, should be mandatory public financing with strict limits -- and free time advertising which every country has except the United States. And it's those free time ads that are often the most imaginative (such as the Liberal Democrats' "Wolf" in the UK a couple of years ago).

The second issue is that if the parties decide who can run and where, it also gives too much power to Washington and not where the issues really matter outside the Beltway.

Understand, I support the principle of no election without selection -- that is, a candidate should not run unless he or she wins the party's nomination or can get at least a couple percentage of the vote in a petition drive to prove they are a serious nominee. Parachute candidates or appointed ones (as is all too common in Canada) should be prohibited in every nation that calls itself democratic.

There is something unbalanced, however, when the DNC insists that the industrial heartland's issues don't matter. Well they do. The traditional upfront states of Iowa (mostly farming) and New Hampshire (farming and mostly light industry) force candidates to go door to door; and having South Carolina in the mix ensures racial balance, and Nevada ensures the often ignored Southwest is also heard. But while most people work in the service industry or high technology, it's heavy industry that still drives the heartbeat of America. As Lee Iaccoca once said, you can't have Silicon Valley without Detroit.

Being connected to the auto industry indirectly, I say directly that this amounts to spitting the working man or woman in America right in the face. Much of the mid-West and the South lives or dies by durable goods sales and no one seems wiling to step up to the challenge of the butchers from China. And if a candidate wants to campaign in a state where those are big issues, they're threatened with disqualification.

That's not democratic at all -- democratic with a small "d." One can only wonder what will happen if no candidate gets 50% of the delegates, and the party also decides to later give Michigan and Florida their votes (along with a few others who incurred a 50% penalty for being closer but still too close to February 5). A truly open floor fight, the likes we haven't seen since Chicago 1968.

Now that would be democracy in action. (The Republicans have managed to stage manage all their conventions since 1956, ever since the first TV broadcast saw the rise of Ike but not before America saw how parties really work or are supposed to.)

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