Sunday, January 13, 2008

Party Reform and the Presidential Nomination

Every four years it seems we hear the argument that the presidential nominating process has gotten more democratic than is good for us. Wilmington attorney and Democratic Party stalwart Chuck Durante offers a convincing response to this nonsense, which was published in the News Journal:
Party reforms served cause of Democrats

The presidential nominating reforms adopted by the Democratic Party after 1968 were critical to the Democratic Party, wresting control from the aging oligarchy that had run the party aground. John Sweeney's Jan. 4 column castigating those reforms misunderstands that era and the need for those changes.
In Sweeney's view, the spittoon-filled rooms did "pretty well" in picking presidential nominees. This overlooks six decades of humdrum nominees, beginning in the 1870's, Republican marionettes from Ohio facing Democratic Bourbons, each subservient to their plutocratic patrons and the party bosses who fed on their table scraps.
The bosses guessed right with Franklin Roosevelt, but FDR ran for a third term because he knew they would otherwise have gotten it wrong in 1940. The party elders were right about John Kennedy, but had nothing to do with the ascent of Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson, all accidental presidents.
In 1968, Democratic chieftains had lost touch. After readying to renominate Johnson, whose earlier accomplishments were drowned by the unpopular Vietnam War, they nominated his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, who ducked every primary, where the war was repudiated. There remains a viewpoint -- to which I don't subscribe but cannot be ruled out -- that even had Robert Kennedy lived, his nearly unbroken streak of primary victories would not have led to his nomination. Bereft of legitimacy, Humphrey's campaign foundered, notwithstanding his valiant closing rush.
Out of office after 36 nearly uninterrupted years of power, and facing a changing population, the old guard knew it was time to retool, mandating a commission to study the system, chaired by Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) and Rep. Donald Fraser (Minn.). Its proposals now seem elementary: basing convention delegations on Democratic turnout, not raw population; including women in proportion to their numbers, abolishing the "unit rule," by which party barons could steamroller dissent. One-fourth of Humphrey voters were black, but the convention that nominated him was nearly all-white. Primaries were not required, only an open process, such as a state convention (which Delaware Democrats used in the 1970s) or a caucus (used in Delaware from 1980 to 1992).
In short, the McGovern-Fraser Commission made candidates earn their nomination.
In 1972, McGovern himself was nominated because his antiwar campaign, run by Gary Hart, motivated the Democratic electorate far more than the vacillating Edmund Muskie or Humphrey. It was the last time that the left-most Democrat was nominated.
Sweeney romanticizes "the big-city bosses," but the parties needed to change. Madison and Jefferson didn't create the Democratic Party to dispense patronage, paving contracts, judgeships and half-pints. The purpose of a party is to advance ideas and elect candidates. In the 1970s, Delaware's Republican Party pioneered modern techniques in candidate recruitment and grass-roots organizing. Over the last 18 years, Delaware Democrats have followed suit.
Sweeney suggests that the reforms took power away from "working-class Catholics" and unions. But Catholic voters, edging away from Democratic candidates since 1940, continued their evolution to representing the electorate as a whole. Unions remain a key Democratic constituency.
There is much wrong in the current nominating process. The absurdly compressed primary schedule, a recent development. The insipid coverage by a dumbed-down national press obsessed with trivia and tactics. The debased tenor of politics generally, to which the deliberation of the New Hampshire and Iowa voters is a dose of tonic. The arbitrary gamble that remains our vice presidential selection process. Blaming these ills on the McGovern-Fraser Commission is like holding Jelly Roll Morton responsible for soft rock.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best plan for the primary system would be to start with small states and move week by week to larger states.

From the viewpoint of watching a horse race, this would keep interest high throughout the process. It would also shorten the election process that started last January, which was necessary because of the front loading of the primaries. Doing this would help all Americans. Often good candidates are out after Iowa. Had they tried again elsewhere, History could have been changed for the better.

The current system favors those with lot's of money. Since money and great ideas usually do not go hand in hand, it forces us to become saddled with mediocre talent in the final round.

Michigan is a case in point. Forced by Hew Hampshire, most Democratic candidates have boycotted the Michigan primary. Consequently many Democrats and Independents will vote in the Republican primary for McCain.

There is quite a bit of anger in Michigan today towards that state's Democratic leadership for not allowing its states Democrats to have any say in that parties choice of the national candidate.

Back to the thread I just hijacked: Isn't Jelly Roll Morton the person responsible for inventing elevator music? :)

5:06 AM, January 15, 2008  

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