Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It's time we all tell Iowa and New Hampshire to f*ck off

It's worth remembering as we move into the Iowa and New Hampshire caucus/primary in the next week how absurd and undemocratic the whole process is. To me, Iowa and New Hampshire always getting to vote first is similar to the Electoral College... I have never heard an argument in either institution's favor that wasn't preposterous on its face.

Taking a brief respite from horse race stories to acknowledge how insulting the first-in-the-nation caucus/primary are to the other 99% of us, the AP ran a story today noting that 53% of people think Iowa and New Hampshire have "too much influence on who wins the party nominations for president." (though I must admit I was surprised that 38% think it's "just right." and I'd be fascinated to know who, outside of people in IA and NH, are in the 6% who think it's "not enough").

The principle should be simple: one person, one vote. By always going first, the votes of people in Iowa and New Hampshire count more than everyone else's. It's just like the Electoral College, where the votes of people in smaller states count more than those of us in large states. Any argument in either institutions' favor is far outweighed by the fact that it contradicts the principle of "one person, one vote."

I am willing to grant the idea that having a few states go first, so candidates can introduce themselves and not have to compete solely in the national media, might make sense. But why does it have to always be NH and IA? This argument, from New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, is incredibly insulting:

"We have made it possible for the so-called unknown candidates to make their case without having millions of dollars in the bank. And in turn, we demand that candidates move beyond the rope line and scripted town hall meetings, and directly answer the hard questions from voters," he said. "As a result, the voters, the candidates and the political process all benefit from the New Hampshire primary."

That all seems fair, but why in the world can't people in any of the 48 other states do the same thing? Why can't we rotate which states go first every four years?

Are the rest of us less intelligence than the citizens of NH and IA? Less capable of taking politics seriously? Sure, it would be tougher to do retail politics in California or Texas, but over the process of a year, I'm sure the candidates could find a way to meet a lot of people. Any decline retail politics would be more than made up for by the benefit of everyone in America getting an equal chance to vote for their president.

Just as with the Electoral College, the arguments of those favoring it are transparently self interested and illogical. And, just as with the Electoral College, the short term incentives for everyone are to kowtow to the status quo. Unless and until there's a national movement by the other 48 states to insist the things change -- and no, everybody moving up their primaries in an endless game of chicken isn't a solution -- things will never change. Something akin to the national popular vote, which will hopefully some day end the Electoral College.

Regardless of who wins and loses in the next few weeks, I think it's really worth remembering how f-ed up the entire process is.

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