We are in the midst of the presidential selection (primary) cycle that occurs every four years. Since Barack Obama cannot run for re-election, and Vice-President Joe Biden has chosen not to run, we have a rare situation where there is no incumbent running for either party. Instead we have somewhat chaotic and nasty campaigns going on in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Unfortunately, the primary process doesn’t seem to be producing particularly well-qualified or appealing candidates.
The current method of selecting presidential candidates hasn’t been around very long. Until the 1960s and 1970s candidates were selected at presidential conventions held by each party. History and memory tells us that things were decided in smoke-filled back rooms. Deals were made by political powerbrokers. Especially after the violence involved with the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago, this was considered unacceptable. Both parties went through reforms and established primaries to select state delegates to their presidential conventions. This supposedly puts the power in the hands of the voters in each state. On one level that is accurate. However, on another level things seem even more unequal than they were under the old procedures.
Political bosses no longer hold the same degree of power. Today the power is held by the media and by those with the money to buy the media coverage. The media decides who gets daily coverage, and who doesn’t. Many conservatives complain that there is a liberal bias against those who disagree with the viewpoints of the liberal media. There may be some truth in that. However, the more fundamental problem is that the media is a business. It exists to make money. Its stars (the reporters and commentators) have high-paying careers. The media thrives by promoting controversy. Controversy pushes up ratings. Higher ratings drive up advertising income. The media is inexorably driven and motivated to keep things interesting, exciting and controversial.
Ask yourself some questions. Is the individual best qualified to be president necessarily the best looking, most controversial, or most media-genic? Do the “debates” really deal with the most important issues? Do you have the information you need to decide who to vote for? My answer is no. Why is that? When a candidate doesn’t play well on television he/she doesn’t get good coverage because he/she isn’t serving the best (financial) interests of the media. From this perspective Donald Trump has been a perfect candidate for the media. He is outspoken and colorful, and an expert at dealing with the media. However, he doesn’t have much political or diplomatic experience. That doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t make a good president. However, it does mean that we cannot look at past experience for evidence of what he would do, or how he would do.
The other power factor involves money. I receive numerous telephone calls every single day asking for money for various candidates. With the possible exception of Donald Trump, every candidate needs money to pay for media advertising and staff to run their campaign. If you don’t have deep pockets you aren’t going to get very far in politics today. In many respects it appears harder to break into national politics today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. The days of a true “dark horse” candidate getting very far seem long gone. The unfortunate corollary is that we get the candidates that those with the money are willing to pay for.
In my opinion the real tragedy is that this situation has left the middle class without a strong voice in national politics. Special interest groups have control of both major parties. The Democratic Party has largely become the voice for various minority and fringe groups. The Republican Party has become the voice for big business and the wealthy. Lobbyist groups and PACs funnel money for their pet causes into politics. Consequently no one typically speaks for the middle class. Not surprisingly, the middle class hasn’t been doing well under recent presidents. Neither party protects us. We need to change that situation. How can we do it?