And now, for a bit of HA heresy. For a solid year now, people have been asking me who I’d like to see become President in 2009. For most of that time, I’ve offered the same unsatisfying response: it’s far too early, a lot can happen between now and then. But as the fascination with the race among local political types I know has heightened leading up to this week’s Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries next Tuesday, I have slowly begun to embrace a different response: why do you care?
Not that the question of who will try to clean up (or exacerbate) George W. Bush’s, er, messes isn’t important: on multiple fronts, it will influence nothing less than the future of humanity. At present, our likely choice will almost certainly be between two of eight less than inspiring people, who break down roughly as follows (based on their past governing records, not their campaign rhetoric): two liberal members of the bipartisan D.C. establishment (Obama, Edwards); one “liberal” who would have been considered a moderate Republican not too long ago (Clinton); four guys who would for all practical purposes be a third term of Bush (Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson); and one charismatic loon (Huckabee). There’s a lot of room between those positions, most of it not good, and it matters a lot which of them will, in slightly over a year, become the most powerful person in the world.
And, of course, there’s a good argument to be made that even the most powerful person in the world can only do so much, and given the country’s political realities, isn’t likely to accomplish much of what s/he is now promising.
Still, it does make a difference who the next president is. It’s a pity Washington state residents will have virtually nothing to do with that choice. Today’s front page P-I headline — “State could turn into big player” (with the subhead “New front-runners might give our caucuses more sway”) — is a truly embarrassing bit of nativist wishful thinking. Sure, our caucuses might have a big impact. Mount Rainier might erupt next week, too.
In the Evergreen State, the presidential campaigns are and will be close to meaningless. Candidates have used our area primarily as an ATM, and that won’t change. Actual visits by candidates will continue to be rare, and any public appearances will be filled in around big stakes fundraising as almost an afterthought, useful almost solely for the resulting free local media coverage.
Of course, we will have a chance to register our opinions in the race next month. Our state’s Democratic and Republican caucuses are on Feb. 9, and the primary vote is on Feb. 19.
Unfortunately, 23 different states and territories, including heavyweights like California, New York, and Illinois (encompassing the country’s four largest media markets) will be having their primaries on “Super Tuesday,” Feb. 5, four days before our caucuses. And six other states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida) will have decided before that. Voters representing 326 of the country’s 538 electoral college votes will weigh in before we do. (Another state, Louisiana, is on the same day, and three more states follow in the next three days.) The upshot: the party’s nominees will likely be decided before we have our say. It’s certain that most of those eight frontrunners will be gone.
Even then, the Washington state process is something of a fraud. The Feb. 19 Democratic primary vote is completely meaningless; all the party’s nominating delegates will have already been chosen at the caucuses, so unless you’re willing to sign up for a political party, invest half a day at some church social hall, and get fund appeals for the next two years, your opinion won’t matter. The state Republicans, to their credit, at least factor the primary results in with the caucuses in determining their delegates — not that the race is likely to still be much of a race by then.
And, of course, come November, Washington state’s 11 electoral votes will all go to the Democratic candidate, just as they have for every presidential election since the days of Reagan. Regardless of how or whether you vote.
So why does it matter what you, I, or any other local person thinks about the 2008 presidential race? Sure, you could join a campaign and fly to a state where the votes matter. (Most of us won’t.) And we can all send in our $25, $50, or $1000 (or whatever) to the candidate of our choice. That’ll make a big dent in the over $100 million that Clinton and Obama have already raised, or the likely combined total of over $1 billion that the two major party nominees will raise for 2008. And since when did “one dollar, one vote” become the standard for our democracy?
The end result is that much of the fascination with the 2008 race hereabouts reeks of rooting for one’s favorite sports team (albeit with more meaningful stakes). It’s fun, it’s entertaining, but it’s not to be confused with the functions of a healthy democracy. That would require, among other things, a national primary day, abolishing the electoral college, public campaign financing, and allowing more than two competitive parties. Since we don’t have any of those things, locally or nationally, and aren’t about to get them, sure, I’ll get some popcorn and watch the race. But we’re spectators in this race — not participants. And that’s a problem.
Meantime, we also have a governor to elect, a local congressional race likely to be hotly contested, and a lot of other offices and measures on the ballot where we can have far more direct impact. So why all the focus on the White House?