Tuesday, February 03, 2015

There Was No Golden Age of Presidential Primaries

It is now 2015, so the silly pundits are getting giddy over the 2016 presidential election. As exemplified at the State of the Union, both sides now just care about winning, bragging rights and my tribe vs. your tribe. We have a ruling class divorced from reality, and they will stick together as the ships sinks. Maybe a grassroots campaigner can sweep the nation and win the presidency, fixing things. No, not likely. The GOP even feared that enough to change their nomination process. The Establishment will win. Primaries are your chance for voice? Nope. Need funding and media attention. It was not always this way. Yes, yes, it has always been this way.

"But like Obama man, the people spoke there, man," is the retort from modern folks. The 2008 Democratic nomination process is a wonderful example of experts making a decision instead of the people. The media built up Obama. Money poured in after some early caucus wins. As he did not compete in Michigan or Florida because he said they were not legitimate, Hillary kind of-sort of did, the media agreed with Obama. Despite losing the popular vote (even with Cook County's absurd skew) and losing almost every large state, the superdelegates were created as a means to break close calls. The superdelegate mandarins settled on Obama in the late spring. The media was happy. The Maoists defeated the Stalinists.

This is not the worst example. That would be the Democrats' primary season of 1952. In days of yore, primaries were used as a means to sound out candidate viability to the base. The front porch campaign habit was not entirely gone in the 1950s, as men may say they were running, stay home and rely on party power brokers to win delegates' allegiance at the convention. In 1952, Senator Estes Kefauver took on incumbent President Truman in primaries and destroyed him. Kefauver destroyed anyone in his path in primaries as he had high visibility after his Senate committee hearings on the Mafia and corruption as well as a populist message. He collected over 3 million primary votes versus eventual nominee Adlai Stevenson's 78,000 total.

In those days, delegates were picked by the state conventions and many state conventions were run by the city machines. Where city machines were not powerful, the state legislatures dominated. Governor Stevenson, envision a white Obama, was considered safe for the big city machines, safe for the unions and safe for the intellectuals. If only southern Senators Kefauver and Russell had known what the progressives had in store for them, they might have joined forces to get their way. They didn't and Stevenson became the nominee. Stevenson took advantage of the nomination process to run once more despite holding no office at the time and even throw his name out there in '60 in case Kennedy's team couldn't secure the nom on the first try. Mayor Daley stood behind Kennedy in '60, so Stevenson lost his most important backer.

This generally changed with the McGovern-Fraser Commission. The fight in the streets would later be on the convention floor in '72 and then in the primary process from then on. That commission gave birth to the primary process as having the say in selecting the nominee, but really what did it do? It put power in the hands of those who could mobilize blocs of voters for the primaries. It put power in fundraisers. It also placed power in the hands of television. The progression of technology from the printed word to radio to video made primaries a great story for television and the media's control. Primary dates could be treated as game days, with result night being post-game analysis, and there were sound bites and video clips to make or break candidates. Gov. Howard Dean's candidacy died with one misplaced, Roger Daltrey level, "Yeahhh-uhhhh". Primary season would create a demand (by whom? the media) for debates of the primary candidates. Certain primaries are must wins. Certain candidates should drop out if they don't win 3 of 5 contests. Certain wins are more important. The media says so. Should 2% candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Michelle Bachmann be on the stage to debate with front runners? Probably not, but they are useful to the media to shape what is discussed and where front runners have to go to please the crowd. Who writes the questions? Media members. Remember the weird birth control questions to GOP candidates in December of 2011, which happened a moth before Sandra Fluke's Congressional testimony on birth control. War on women. Who runs Bartertown? The media.

Our ruling class loves the primary process. Our ruling class funds it, earns the advertising revenue from it, consults candidates on it, writes the speeches, works the party pillars and pontificates on it. It is their NFL playoffs. The GOP altering their process to push out their base voters is really just a defensive overreaction to the party with the last pool of voters who might be onto the bamboozling and have the money to fund insurgents. The underclass does not, but they couldn't support an insurgent to take out the Eloi's pick on the left. Even Clinton's DLC funded insurgency used Wall Street's money and had the media's blessing. It is not right though to pine for a golden age that never existed. This is the system. If you want a better one and you want to change it, you need to take a sledgehammer to every myth holding it up.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Again, I refer your readers to Charles Gasparino's "Bought & Paid For" to see the actual sausage making. The Wall St process of vetting is laid out & eventually led to the procurement of Barack Obama (well, at least temporarily). Boehner/Cantor took at all that money in 2010.

It was over for Hill once they decided he could was someone they could work with.

As we know all know, they all are for sale because they think they need the goddamn money.

Makes what Buchanan did in '92 that much more remarkable. That should be Rand's model, but he's too stupid to see it.