United States: Primary Lunacy

Will the United States ever return to government “Of the People, By the People, For the People”?

February 9, 2016

Will the United States ever return to government “Of the People, By the People, For the People”?

With the Democratic and Republican primaries in full swing, the spectacle on American TV screens could not be more entertaining, even outrageous.

Democrats have a choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. She is the incarnation of the Clinton Dynasty, keen on creating an air of inevitability.

But she comes with a lot of baggage that makes her intrinsically unworthy of trust.

Sanders has long been regarded as an independent “socialist” (by American standards) dinosaur who just recently decided to re-join the Democratic Party to have a shot at the White House, very remote as that prospect always seemed.

However, his call to “start a new American revolution” has received a remarkably positive reaction in the Democratic electorate.

Only one “dynasty” left in the race

Republicans will most likely have to choose between Trump, Cruz and Rubio, now all frontrunners. Unlike the Democrats, it appears as if the Republicans have shed their “dynasty” issue, with “princeling” Jeb Bush completely missing his launch.

(That, of course, makes Hillary’s dynastic factor all the more problematic for Democrats. Their party certainly is supposed to be less stodgy than the Republicans.)

Trump is a pure populist who will do and say anything, without filter, that might get him his next trophy. He is a self-centered narcissist who believes he can buy the Presidency because he is “really, really rich” and comes up with completely outrageous ideas that will never see the light of day.

Ted Cruz is a true conservative and evangelical with lots of appeal in the American Bible belt, but probably not beyond. Plus, he resembles Joe McCarthy in an uncomfortable manner.

Marco Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants with an air of youthfulness and a political sense of the feasible that could make him attractive to voters in the general election.

However, he faces increasingly uncomfortable questions about whether having run a Senate staff is sufficient experience to become President of the United States.

Anger as common denominator

What is different this time is how many angry voters have decided to participate in the early stages of the U.S. election.

And they gravitate to both extremes: to Sanders in the Democratic and to Trump in the Republican camp. Their rhetoric is a telltale echo reflecting the void of the shattered American Dream.

How Canada does it

In Canada, we just went through a General Election last year. The choices were much less drastic and, while the campaign was somewhat exciting by Canadian standards, it would put Americans to sleep.

To sum it up, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party got the nod from Canadian voters, probably not so much because Canadians wanted something radically new.

Rather it was because Mr. Harper failed to realize that he had passed his good-before date as Conservative leader and the country’s Prime Minister.

The key difference between the Canadian (as well as many other developed countries) and the U.S. style of elections lies in how campaigns are run and financed.

Canada has rules that limit a General Election campaign to a couple of months. The practical result is that there is only so much money that parties can spend in convincing voters that they are the better choice than the competition.

The party that gets the most votes in the election will be asked by the Governor General to form a government. The leader of that party will become Prime Minister.

Long drawn out process

In the United States, the run for the White House is at least a two-year affair, with candidates jockeying for a spot in the primaries as much as two years before the election.

Officially, the primary circus starts in January of the election year. Party nomination conventions are held in the summer and then the election in November.

The U.S.-style of political campaigns not only forces politicians to take a lot of time off from doing their day jobs, it also costs lots of money.

The process enriches lots of political consultants, vastly improves the bottom line of media companies happy to sell political advertising in “battleground” states and benefits journalists who hope to advance their career via their election coverage.

All of this has also created a competitive culture that leads to a level of nastiness that is unique in the world. Listen to ten minutes of Trump in the current primaries and you will understand what I mean.

Limit the spending

Canadians can thank their former Prime Minister Jean Chretien for bringing in new political finance rules that set strict limits for voter donations and basically eliminated Corporate Canada as large donors to election campaigns.

Mr. Chretien saw large corporate donations as a risk to the political process, as they allowed big corporations to exert undue influence on parties and politicians alike.

Kudos to him for having the audacity to change the rules, and to Mr. Harper, actually, for resisting the temptation to change them back and make them more “American” when his Conservatives took office just a few years later.

As it stands, all other developed countries more or less follow the same model of severely restraining the role of money in politics.

Exceptional America

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court took another direction. In a landmark First Amendment decision, the court opened the doors for limitless contributions to candidates by so-called “SuperPACs” that are not directly connected to a particular candidate.

The result of this decision is that money spent in federal election campaigns has skyrocketed to billions and has more or less spun out of control as SuperPACs avoid scrutiny under transparency rules for “normal” campaign financing.

Corporate America can actually buy candidates. The Koch Brothers’ empire, for example, does so unapologetically.

Bernie Sanders makes a point of the problem in stating publicly that he will not, under any circumstances, take any money from any SuperPAC.

Of the People, By the People, For the People?

On the other side of the spectrum, The Donald touts the virtues of his campaign being self-funded. That is a small consolation to those who understand that Mr. Trump’s spending a billion of his own money still means he might be trying to buy his way to the White House.

American politics and the race to the White House are fascinating and entertaining, to be sure.

But something needs to change in the United States’ political system to return it to the notion of Government “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”

It is unlikely that this will happen this time around, but maybe the participation of the silent but angry minority has started a process to get American politics back to saner shores.

Takeaways

The participation of the silent but angry minority may get American politics back to saner shores.

The long drawn out US election campaign has created a level of nastiness that is unique in the world.

Will the United States ever return to government “Of the People, By the People, For the People”?