Mission Accomplished: Short Term Gains, Long Term Worries

The corporate thinkers in the Washington Establishment have accomplished their mission – get a nominee quick and easy. Do it as fast as possible, and make sure that people know who’s the one who is “electable.” And be sure to knock off any latecomers to the party, so to speak – we don’t want any trouble, we just want safety.
Front-loading the primary schedule as was done this year was designed precisely to do this. By stacking up the campaigns so quickly, it left little time for much debate, analysis, or testing of the candidates, and hopefully keep the rabble out. When Howard Dean threatened to usurp the process by bypassing the traditional methodology to reach the $20 million by Jan. 1 milestone one needed, the party and the establishment responded in force.
Shadowy advertisting with little disclsoure paid for by unions and retired Sen. Robert Torricelli. Unprecedented collusion between the campaign managers of no less than four independent presidential campaigns to “Stop Dean.” A hostile media with biased coverage complete with the inevitable crocodile mea culpas from CNN and ABC. Top it off with some tactical mistakes by the Dean crew, (inevitable in any campaign), and you have an effective dismissal of the party-crashing Dean.*
Onward to victory, we’re led to believe. Hurry up, get that nominee. Never mind that large states, such as California and New York, will have little to no role in determining the viablity of said candidates, while highly representative states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Delaware get to vote for any candidate they want – and determine who we’re left with.
Never mind that in the past 40 years, no winning Democratic nominee in a tough race (Kennedy, Carter, Clinton) came from a safe primary battle – they emerged from a long, hard fought campaign that tested their campaign’s organization, message, and resolve through a process that allowed people some time to at least find out who these people even were.
No, the corporate short-termer thinkers like Terry McAuliffe, Al From, and the rest of the Congressional Washington Establishment wanted it done quickly and painlessly, and a lazy media was happy to go along for the ride. Throughout the campaign’s news coverage, you got the sense they just wanted to pronounce it “done” and go home so they can write up the daily “Kerry attacks Bush, Bush attacks Kerry” missives from the DNC and RNC. Watch how fast this lively exchange gets tuned out by most people for its dull repetitiveness and negativity.
The joke is of course that the most popular programming on television right now is the infamous “reality show,” where people compete to the end, and each week we’re treated to some poor sap getting voted “off the island” or married to some big weird guy. There’s ample evidence to indicate that a spirited primary battle was capturing people’s attention and provided some interesting television to say the least. But as quickly as the focus began, it’s now ended – as has any interesting news or drama.
Apparently the corporate crowd in Washington doesn’t watch the same TV as the proletariat – unfortunate for them because pop culture determines more of our political culture than vice versa. Their overriding fear that the contest would degrade into a messy Battle Royale prevailed over any sort of rationale that doesn’t fit into a table or a spreadsheet.
I have said more than once, and with tremendous sincerity, that a more inclusive system would not be state-funded primaries, or dull caucuses, but rather a national telethon to raise money for the eventual nominee through a series of bi-weekly American Idol style votes.
Each episode would focus on an issue, and pre-registered particpants could vote via cell phone, telephone, Internet, etc. and each episode would leave one less candidate on the dais. You can ridicule such a concept – but remember, more people are voting for the next American Idol than for the eventual Democratic (or Republican) nominee. Rather than high-brow bemoaning of the degradation of culture, why not embrace it – and pull more people into the process? Too messy, I guess. Besides, you might get someone who’s not part of the in crowd. Scary!
I have no problems with Kerry personally, I just worry we’re all saying he’s “The One” without enough tests in today’s bitter partisan electoral landscape to make sure he’ll pull through. Even Neo had to fight Agent Smith and get shot full of bullets to find out he was The One.
Surely we could have afforded a few debates where he could take som fire – and prove he’s The One by repelling it easily. Compared to the debates before Jan. 1 – where it was 8 Democrats vs. Dean, relentlessly attacking him over and over and over – Kerry has had it very easy. Too easy.
That said, I admit, it was fun to have worked advance at Kerry’s kickoff at Fanueill Hall in Boston. I got to meet the Senator and he seems like a nice enough person. Plus, it’s always fun when you get to see yourself on TV news coverage wayyyyy in the background, with a big crowd of happy people.
The system’s done its job, and there’s no sense in complaining. It’s time to see what’s next in the race. I’ll cast my ballot and support the eventual nominee, and just hope if they get elected things will improve. However, as a California voter, I now face the prospect of casting a ballot in an election that’s already been decided. Has a sort of third-world feel.
Those pro-Bush positions on “Leave No Child Behind,” tax cuts, and the Iraq war hopefully were just to stay “electable,” and once “elected,” said frontrunner will cast aside such expediency and reveal their true selves. Practical politicians do this all the time, and political observers like myself need to get on the bandwagon and stop asking questions. It’ll all be OK.
This play has an eerily familiar tone to it – I seem to remember someone else who got elected on a similar platform 12 years ago. They even included promises of health care coverage for all, complete with a Democratic Congress to back them up – only to end things 8 years later with a health care system in tatters, jobs being sent overseas, and brewing corproate scandals at Enron and MCI.
Is it a good idea to take plays from a 12 year old book for a game that isn’t played on the same field as today? Will playing the middle work in an era of red state/blue state and a hyper-partisan President that called an injured war veteran in 2002 “disloyal” and “unpatriotic?”
Well, these and other considerations are to be pushed aside. The winner of the California primary won’t have to do more than attend some fundraisers in LA and San Francisco to “win,” and the serious problems California faces will be but a sideshow.
The Important People Who Know Better Than Me running the campaign can pat us on the head, smile and say they “care” about our problems and insert some college Spanish into a few speeches. Meanwhile we’ll never really know which of the Democratic candidates even understands the issues Californians face, much less their stand on them.
Let’s just hope they pick up something before November 2004 to ensure winning California’s 60+ electoral votes. Otherwise, one wonders what it will be like in January 2005.
Update: USA Today, that thoughtful and deliberative journal of the American landscape, seems to agree with me today!
*(Note to wannabe challengers of the system: you better have your act together if you want even half a chance to get taken seriously. Put down the macrame pamphlets and get your organization disciplined, and organized! Watch your back and for God’s sake, be careful about how you take on the media – otherwise others may cash in on the fear you generate with these folks.)
� 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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