Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Political Foolishness (Random thoughts on the political circus)

During their most recent debate, the candidates for the Democrat nomination for President of the United States talked about such things as how the economy isn’t working for so many Americans and what each of them plans to do about that. And they talked about how health care isn’t available to every American at an equal level and what they will do about that. Whatever level of detail they gave—or didn’t give—about any of these points, what they didn’t explain is where in the US Constitution anyone in the federal government is authorized to do anything about either of those things?

They also tell you that when the next President enters the White House after being sworn in he or she will inherent a stack of problems from the current occupant, and they tell you that the current President hasn’t lived up to his oath to uphold the US Constitution. All the while they are denouncing President Bush for failing to uphold the Constitution, they are pledging to behave in exactly the same way, and the audience, rather than noticing the hypocrisy, is applauding wildly at the prospect that one of these folks will have their chance.

And what’s the point of putting a bunch of fawning, adoring, star struck partisans in the debate audience to applaud the every word their chosen favorite speaks? That turns what might be a great opportunity to hear what the candidates really think into a rock concert-like caricature of a serious political discussion. Rhetorical points are made not to express some deep philosophical perspective or a substantive solution to a troublesome problem, but to illicit more applause than their opponent(s).

Why has the Democrat field been whittled down to just two candidates before the end of January after only a handful of states have had a chance to express their opinions, and when just this week 24 states held their primaries/caucuses/conventions, and many others still haven’t had their chance yet? The “nominating” conventions won’t be held for more than six months and the general election is still nearly a year away. And the Republicans have essentially only one viable candidate after the first week in February, not to suggest that some dramatic turnaround might not occur.

What happened to the good ol’ days when these decisions were made in the smoke-filled back rooms during the conventions? In those days deciding a party’s nominee was made by a relative few through wheeling and dealing; today, it is made by more people, but still leaving out a tremendous number of Americans who would like to have something to say about who their party nominates.

Of course I have merely scratched the surface of legitimate criticism of our political system, and hardly anyone who actually thinks about what is happening in politics today really believes that this process will produce the best president. Whether this screwy process is better or worse than the smoke-filled days of yore I can’t say. But I can say with a reasonably high degree of certainty that it is a poor way to choose our nation’s leader.

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