Reforming the Primaries

If you are so disgusted with the outcome of this year’s primary campaign that you just want to stay home in November, think about what Allen West has to say about that. The downballot races are now even more important, to add some direction and counsel for the next president, Trump, if he beats Hillary. If Hillary wins, then we will need a determined opposition to slow her down in a different way than the current Congress thinks is appropriate to do.

Meanwhile, this should be a good time to talk about what might be done differently in the future.

Some people have already started proposing changes in the process, like all states being required to hold primaries with proportional outcomes based on vote totals. The problem here is that we do not have national elections. Instead, we have 50 individual state elections. The Constitution recognized this, that each state will decide how its elections will be conducted, not the federal government, not the political parties. Fifty states would have to independently agree to make the requested change or the Constitution would have to be amended. That would be a tough one to pull off.

Who likes open primaries? I’ve never understood the justification for them, that it shows the particular party is open to all? Really? If someone isn’t committed enough to register as a member of the party, what do you lose by not letting them vote in your primary? The next thing you know, just anyone could run for office as a party member.

Registering with a party is usually, but not always, easier than acquiring voter ID, so it’s time for that practice to be stopped. Crossing party lines to vote in the other party’s primary so you can help determine who your own favorite party will have as an opposing candidate is an old practice, so there must be some reason for doing it. Closed primaries will lend some integrity to a party process that is badly lacking in it.

With the states having control over their own primaries, who’s going to make them all take place on the same day? Iowa and New Hampshire will never go for that idea. They get too much attention by being early, attention that they don’t get at any other time, not to mention the economic benefit of so many visitors spending money in those states for endless months. The media would complain, too, that it couldn’t adequately cover all of the states at once.

What would be the advantage of the primaries all occurring on the same day? I’m not sure that getting it all over with quickly is a good idea. The long primary campaign is a sort of trial by combat for candidates who say they want to be president for the next 4/8 years. That makes a short primary period good for showhorses. We have to do better. Voters also need time to learn about the candidates, more than they can ever do in a short campaign. Just think about some of the early media favorites who fell by the wayside in time: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani. Shorten the primary period and the media will decide who is our candidate for us.

We need time for multiple debates and time to think about them. We also need to end the headline-driven debacle that we all now endure. Who benefits more from this other than the media?

In the current debates, the media asks stupid and/or irrelevant questions. The candidates then try to look as if they are meaningful, because no matter what, they know they are targets for eminent ridicule at the moment of inquiry. Then there are the gotcha ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ questions that the media loves. Some candidates get them. Some don’t. It usually shows and irritates viewers.

The reason the media is involved is because the networks are more willing to broadcast a debate if their own news people are part of the show. They go for questions they can hype the answers to afterward or which might help them look better to their bosses, not those that might help anyone decide which candidate is the best potential president.

There is a better way, a much simpler way. Give each candidate five minutes in turn to speak at a single podium with a single microphone with a timer driven cutoff switch. Repeat as needed. Let them speak on whatever subjects they choose, or require all to speak on the same subjects at some point during the night. No gotchas. No headline hunting. No interruptions by other loudmouthed candidates. By giving the candidates leeway to speak, their choices will be telling and you can learn more about them than how they dodge questions or call names. This process may not rise to the level of Lincoln/Douglas, but it isn’t shameful, as the current practice is. If the networks don’t want to broadcast such events, CSpan or PBS will.

The complaint that is freshest in my mind at the moment is the role of the media in candidate selection. No matter the rationale, giving one candidate three times the media coverage of another, or the others, is helpful only to the one, whether intentional or biased or not. Emotion beats intellect in politics, but it should be the voter’s emotions, not a reporter’s, that prevails.

Excuses aside, when members of the media broadcast that one candidate is the best and show an incomplete picture of his activities and comments, freedom of the press has become political propaganda. That may suit you if your candidate has won, but the pendulum always swings and may bump your favorite aside the next time.

The idea of the press, as the Founders saw it, was that the populace was given a more complete picture of the politics of a given event, so they could make an informed choice. If we are each to have the right to vote, as the Constitution says, then we should also have the right to be fairly and adequately informed or our rights will have been compromised or denied. To express this in another way, when a news source’s publications are written so as to have a disparate impact on one candidate versus any other, the source should proclaim itself to be opinion based, not news based. Those which are opinion based should be governed by freedom of speech rights and restrictions, the same as the rest of the citizenry. Those which are news and fact based, should still be governed by freedom of the press rights. That makes the words, not the source, the critical factor, and that is the way it should be, especially now that so many can speak out so publicly.

If we must restrict the freedom of the press, we should first take note that the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion, and the Second Amendment right to bear arms have restrictions on them as well, as do other amendments. The right to vote, if compromised by another’s right to publish opinions and statements that are in another’s own selfish best interests and without regard to mine, is being denied to all of us, even members of the media, because there has not been an honest discourse regarding the candidates or the issues.

It is commonly said that one person’s rights do not compromise another person’s rights. Opinion based journalism crosses that line, and needs to be changed.