Why Do the Hicks in Iowa, NH and South Carolina Get to Pick Our President?
Another election year is upon us, and there’s good news and bad news. On the upside, Americans will again peacefully choose their next leader in November, a continuing miracle that we too often take for granted. The not-so-great part is that the 98 percent of citizens who don’t live in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina will—yet again—have virtually no say in their party’s nominee for President.
In other words, the leader of the Free World will largely be determined by Hawkeye State hicks whose claims to fame are making full-size butter cows (sounds like a made-to-order Paula Deen special) and hysterically crying whenever their other sacred cow is criticized: ethanol mandates.
Likewise, an equal say is incomprehensibly bestowed upon folks in New Hampshire—which is mindboggling since these people still don’t know there’s an “r” in the alphabet. Guess it’s just pa’ fa’ tha’ coua’se. Pass the lobsta’.
And now we have Uncle Cletus in the state that started the War of Northern Aggression putting the finishing touches on the coronation.
Only in America.
Where does that leave the rest of the country? Voting for dogcatcher, coroner and several other less-flattering offices, such as U.S. Senate.
So why does the nation put up with such an inequitable system, will it ever change, and is there a better way? Answers: lack of political courage, probably not, and resoundingly yes.
Jokes aside, all three early-voting states are wonderful in their own right, rich in history and filled with salt-of-the-earth folks trying to make their lives and country better.
But having the first and last word in the election process is insane. No state should hold that much power, and possessing it manages to accomplish three things, all negative:
• The rest of the country grows angrier every four years.
• That resentfulness leads to significant voter apathy because of the not-incorrect mentality that “my vote doesn’t count since the winner has already been chosen.” As a result, other critical state and local races, many of which affect people infinitely more than a national contest, go unnoticed and voter turnout nosedives.
• The eventual nominee leaves a lot to be desired.
With the exception of the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton race going the distance, which, in truth, was over well before many late-in-the-game states voted, nominees have been chosen by these states for decades. And the nation suffers.
What does an oil driller in Alaska, a manufacturer in Pennsylvania, or a border-patrol agent in Arizona have in common with an Iowa farmer? How does a small-business owner in Oklahoma relate to a New Hampshire lobsterman’s fishery issues? And how much is a Montana rancher in tune with a South Carolina textile worker?
The present rigged system results in candidates who, instead of being more in touch with Americans’ varied interests—and being forced to take positions on those issues—are increasingly responsive only to voters in those three states. Win them, and it’s over, and the rest of the nation be damned.
The system is the way it is because the establishments of both parties like it that way. To them, it is easy, clean and (relatively) quick, and avoids what is anathema: a long, drawn-out primary election that ultimately would wrest control from party leaders and give it to (God forbid) the people. And the more quickly a nominee can be picked, the less money has to be spent during primary season, and the more time there is to raise cash for November.
But since the interests of the people are not high on party leaders’ lists (they prefer power for the sake of power), they will move heaven and earth to retain the status quo.
It could be changed, but that would require political courage. And that is in short supply.
Frontrunners are almost always part of the Establishment, so count them out. And long-shot challengers either suck up to party leaders trying to get into the club, or end up spending an entire year in one state pandering to a particular constituency—such as Rick Santorum selling his soul by courting the ethanol corn vote in Iowa.
Admittedly, it is an extremely difficult system to break, but thus far the efforts to do so have been misguided. Take Jon Huntsman, who skipped Iowa to focus on New Hampshire. He was an extreme long shot anyway, so all the more reason to spend some of his personal fortune to tell the nation—and the party hierarchy—why he was boycotting Iowa, and why the system was so flawed. In doing so, he could have gained significant traction, not enough to win, perhaps, but enough to call the system into question. And in some respects, that would have been more important than winning the nomination. But he didn’t.
And in 2008, Rudy Giuliani skipped all three states to first compete in Florida. Had he actually had a competent campaign and resonating message—including one that pointed to the lack of fairness in the system—the outcome might have been different (especially since eventual nominee John McCain’s campaign was in significant debt). But he didn’t.
To make the system fair for all Americans, one of two options should be considered:
1) Divide the nation regionally into three groupings of roughly 17 states, and rotate each subset so that every four years, a different one starts the voting. That would offer enough of a variation that local or even regional issues would not dominate the campaigning.
2) Perhaps better, the groupings of states should be picked randomly, so that the diversity of Americans’ issues would be better reflected. With only three primary election dates on the calendar, every state would have a significant say in which party nominee wins. The downside is that nationwide campaigning for each of the primaries would drive campaign costs up, thus increasing the need for more fundraising. But campaign costs will go up anyway, and with so many more voters having a stake in the election, small-dollar donations via the Internet may well offset the increased costs of running a larger campaign.
Switching to a new system is no guarantee that better candidates will be chosen. It would, however, undoubtedly increase the slate of folks willing to throw their hat into the ring—given that many now stay out because they feel they can’t compete. It would also engage millions more Americans in the presidential election process, finally giving them a say that has been denied to them for far too long.
Given the state of America, due in large part to electing pandering politicians with a scarcity of courage and conviction, it’s time to try something new and return power to the people, instead of relying on butter cows and lobsterman to choose our leader.
We could do no worse.