Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Michael Cullinane on the American Primary Season in The Conversation

Michael Patrick Cullinane, "Why the US Presidential Primary System is No Way to Run a Democracy," The Conversation, February 5, 2016.

The US baseball season is infamously long. Each team plays 162 games from the first week of April to the last week in September. October is reserved for the playoffs and the World Series. Then there’s the pre-season: spring training starts in February, and the multi-million dollar trade deals consume much of the preceding winter months. November tends to be quiet, a reflective period to consider the year gone by and speculate on the one ahead. Yet the marathon season that follows, fans anticipate opening day as if it were the only event in the calendar.
Screenshot of CNN's New Hampshire Primary coverage.

America’s other favourite pastime, politics, works in much the same way. The Iowa caucuses are opening day, and if you believe all the hype, they can seem as important as the November main event. And then, once Iowa’s done with, everyone suddenly remembers the season is actually very, very long.

This would be less absurd if every election were not talked about as if it were exceptional. Journalist E J Dionne called this year’s road to Iowa a “painful” implosion of party coalitions and public anxieties that demonstrated the end of political certainties. But when has this not been the case?

Iowa’s bizarre caucus system and the seemingly endless media frenzy have encouraged political mayhem since the state took its place at the start of the calendar in the 1970s. The unexpected is generally to be expected: think of Rick Santorum’s razor-thin win in 2012, or Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee’s more convincing ones in 2008, or the litany of “remarkable” second-place showings by anti-establishment candidates such as Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan.

Hyperbole and hype

The “opening day” hyperbole quickly dissipates post-Iowa. The political season only begins in earnest when a bloated field of candidates starts to shed some dead weight. And for all the ink spilled over how this year is “different”, the same process is already well underway.

After nearly being knocked into third place by a surging Marco Rubio, the political poetry surrounding Donald Trump is already evaporating. Before Iowa, Jeet Heer, Charles Krauthammer, Linda Feldmann, and Liam Kennedy were all calling him the new Barry Goldwater; Newt Gingrich and Rich Lowry likened him to President Andrew Jackson, and the Donald “shrugged off” comparisons to Hitler, Mussolini, and Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort. >>>>read on

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