Guest column | Jack Bray

Race for president more like a lengthy reality show

There was a time when becoming president was a childhood dream, a noble wish, a special calling. Today, forgive me, it seems that becoming president is like winning a race on a television reality program. Call it "The Great American Race For President."

To make matters worse, not only are there more contestants, oops, candidates, than ever, but we also have to endure the cruel and unusual punishment of longer campaigns than ever. Call it the search for "Last Candidate Standing."

Blame this marathon on the primaries. Without those endless voting days and mind-numbing debates, instead with just the national conventions (as in the good old days), the election process would be blessedly brief. Think about that.

To begin with, there is no provision for the role of political parties in the Constitution. Those didn't develop until the early 19th century. Prior to 1820, Democratic-Republican members of Congress would nominate a single candidate from their party. By 1832, the preferred mechanism for nomination was a national convention. (No debates! No primaries! Yes!) Delegates to the national convention were usually selected at state conventions whose delegates were chosen by district conventions.

Sometimes, those conventions were dominated by intrigue among political bosses who controlled delegates. Progressive Era reformers looked to the primary election as a way to measure popularity rather than the bosses' opinion of candidates. (Little did they know what a monster they had unleashed.)

In 1910, Oregon became the first state to establish a presidential preference primary in which the delegates to the national convention were required to support the winner of the primary.

The impetus for the binding primary election was the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention. After that fiasco, a commissioned panel recommended states adopt new rules for wider participation. A large number of states chose a presidential primary as an easier way to comply with the new national Democratic Party rules. Republicans soon followed suit.

And so, here we are. The admirable goal of the progressives that the popular opinion is better than the delegate opinion has become such a fixation that I believe we have lost sight of the fact that we are voting for delegates, not candidates. In our blind enthusiasm, we have moved the primaries to earlier dates as if we just can't wait. Not surprisingly, the starting gun, so to speak, for "running" has gone off sooner than ever.

Well, guess what? Despite all the hullabaloo of debates and primaries, not all of us vote in any election. How bad is that? About 89-million, or 49 percent of those eligible, voted on Super Tuesday.

In an ideal world, everyone with the privilege to vote would act on that responsibly. Imagine our terrorist enemies laughing at us when we proclaim the greatness of democracy and don't vote.

Here's the best part. After all is said and done, as Al Gore will painfully remind us, the Electoral College chooses our president. That's in the Constitution. Who needs primaries? Will someone please tell me, then, why we continue to suffer through the political craziness?

You would have thought Super Tuesday was the finish line. But 14 more days were scheduled for primaries, extending the race to June.

Enough! Here's to ending the primaries. Before the madness starts again (probably right after the inauguration), let's return to just a national convention for each party. This should be an election, not a race.

Maybe amid the noise of the conventions, a statesman or stateswoman will quietly rise to the great possibility of becoming our president and tell us of their dream, their wish, their calling.

Then, if you ask me, we would have a real American Idol.

Retiree Jack Bray is a former Florida resident who now lives in Alabama. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

Race for president more like a lengthy reality show 02/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:00am]

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