PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

Gore Wins, Bush Loses

Washington D.C.

The inevitability of prosperity is a radical notion foreign to both Democratic and Republican orthodoxies. Republicans believe that only through repressing, whereas Democrats believe that only through raising, wages can prosperity be achieved. Now, I am only the son of an economist, and do not even play one on TV. Yet it seems pretty obvious that, if you happen to be sitting on the hugest stack of wealth in the known world, as the US does, you can calmly expect the cumulative investments of all that wealth to pay off over time. No fine tuning or mysterious managerial gris-gris is required: just collecting the interest and dividends of a big enough pile will finance a considerable amount of growth all by itself.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, an attempt to stage a coup two years ago under the guise of their scandalous impeachment effort was repudiated, not only by the American people in polling data assembled, but by almost all the Democrats and few enough Senate Republicans. And now that miscalculation of theirs is also paying off over time. Their payoff is suitably negative, taking the form of a political deficit such that the Republicans have lost all their old issues, or chosen the unpopular sides of them, while failing to find any new ones.

Watching the ultimate State of the Union of the Clinton era, I was reminded of Gene McCarthy's observation that Clinton thinks like the Governor of the United States. However, Clinton's recital of visions and programs was sufficiently compelling that I was also reminded of how much the Republicans won by shutting him down for the last two years. They gave up two Speakers of the House, neither of whom was any great loss and one of whom was a blot on the national honor, but in trade they kept the best Democratic politician since Lyndon Johnson from really using his position to advance a peoples' agenda.

Many suspect that Clinton's "real" interests lay in coopting the progressive movement so as to advance such corporatist causes as free trade of the multinationals, by the multinationals, and for the multinationals. On the contrary, I surmise that most of his acquiescence to corporate coercion has been tactical, rather than ideological. Just as Senator John (Explosive Rudeness) McCain (R-Ariz.) supports a mild form of campaign finance reform in order to soothe his conscience for having supported Charles Keating's flagitious S&L legislation, Clinton distanced himself from organized labor on "free trade" in order to give the corporate establishment a victory.

McCain's emergence is a repeat of the Gary Hart story of 1984 where he came out of nowhere to scare the anointed nominee (not the one of 1988 where he dared the press to cover something irrelevant like his personal life, and lost.) As with Gene McCarthy in 1968, Hart in '84, so now McCain and Bill (Mildly Reformed) Bradley in the year of aught-aught: if they could get nominated, they could win; but they couldn't get nominated. The difference across the years on the Democratic side is that now either Bradley or Al (Stick) Gore can beat George W. (Shrub) Bush, and Bradley could beat McCain, whereas McCarthy and Hart were the only Democrats who could have won at the time.

Want some astonishing proof that Shrub's defeats have only just begun? His way of beginning the public relations push to overcome his defeat the day after New Hampshire was to busily trumpet an endorsement by Dan (Completely Irrelevant) Quayle. That's like a beauty contest hopeful announcing she uses Geritol. You can't imagine that anyone's paying attention and, if they were, that they care. The subheadline in the NY Times the day after New Hampshire was a tasty forecast of what November holds: "Voters Stun Bush." Another omen of cheerful augury: no Republican nominee has ever been elected President without first winning New Hampshire.

The primaries should be effectively over within a month of New Hampshire, as New York and California vote on March 7. The front-loading of the primary season will be much deplored among the punditocracy, who will uniformly plump for something, no matter what, that would prove to be even worse, just as they pushed front-loading onto us in order to save us from Gary Hart.

That said, it is instructive to review the history of the primaries. They have been important in presidential politics only since 1952, when a poor New Hampshire showing forced the withdrawal of President Truman.

The Progressive Party of Senator Bob LaFollette (I-Wis.) pushed the primary system of nomination into prominence around the time of WWI. It was then a hangover from the Populist revolt against the convention system of nominations. However, the convention system itself was the radical reform pushed by the upstart Republicans in 1856. Before that, presidents were nominated by those ultimate smoke-filled rooms, the state legislatures.

It seems like every time we succeed in expanding the electorate, those who own and operate the political process try to narrow it down and keep the voters from having too much influence. Nowadays they are resisting Internet voting, with a tame Republican foundation suing to prevent New Mexico Democrats from holding a binding Internet primary. Noted Republican flack George (Triumph Of The) Will blatantly opined in print that if a limited electorate was good enough for George Washington, it ought to be good enough for us. Of course, in Washington's time, you had to be free, male, white, 21, and a property owner. The ill-disguised preference of Will and other conservatives for a property qualification for voting has, at least, the demerit of consistency: they never have been able to bring themselves to whole-hearted acceptance the principle of one man, one vote.

Don't forget that the reason we vote on a Tuesday is because it was convenient for the landowners, shopkeepers, and other employers to vote during the week, when their workers could not. We ought to at least vote on Saturday and Sunday both, like the Japanese and the French, so as to give everybody a chance (and make the media infarct by keeping their anchorpersons in suspense for 48 hours.)

So these could be the last primaries we ever see that are done in the old way, that is, as a means of dampening and undervaluing citizen participation. Of course, we hoped that same hope coming out of 1968 too. Maybe by 2004 we can have primaries that don't start so early, aren't stacked so much, and actually give a cross-section of citizens a chance to examine a cross-section of candidates. Internet voting may not be a good idea, but that doesn't matter. It's already well on its way.


Q: Why do the LA police leave Dodgers games at the 7th inning stretch?

A: They're in a hurry to beat the crowd.

James McCarty Yeager is a Washington DC writer.

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