Sunday, February 25, 2007

Broder on Picking Presidents

Look, I realize it's de rigeur for a blog to criticize David Broder, but his approach to understanding how politics works is a) widely accepted among political journalists; and b) in many cases, profoundly wrong. Note, for example, his recent column complaining about the presidential nominations system. Broder writes:

What we have, friends, is a remarkably distinguished field of candidates vying in an election system that has become truly insane.

Okay, he's got me curious at this point. I'm wondering why a system that produces such high caliber candidates (which would probably be a good thing) would also be insane. It turns out that the problems are that:
  1. Candidates are campaigning now, roughly a year before the primaries.
  2. The primaries will be over relatively early, and we'll probably know the major party nominees by next February or March. As Broder says, "[S]omeone is likely to put a death grip on each party's nomination before most Americans have begun to size up his or her capacity to be president."
  3. As a result of that earlier nomination, the general election campaign will be much longer: "[A] nine-month marathon that leaves contenders and voters exhausted."
These assertions all manage to defeat each other. If candidates are campaigning now, running around the country, giving interviews and speeches, meeting voters, etc., then voters are in the process of sizing up their capacities to be president. Why is that process good when it happens in early 2008 but bad when it happens in 2007?

I'm also unclear how shorter campaigns are better for anyone. So what if contenders are exhausted? I'm supposed to care that they're well rested for Thanksgiving in 2008? And I hardly see how a long campaign exhausts voters. We still only have to vote once. If we get bored by the campaign we can pay attention to something else for a while. Yes, a longer campaign will cost more, but that means that more money will be spent on advertisements and candidate travel - you know, things that inform voters about the candidates. Why is this bad?

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