So comes and goes another Super Tuesday. If the preliminary results are any evidence, there is virtually no change in the dynamics of the race. Mitt Romney continues to crawl toward the nomination while failing to get a big win. Rick Santorum maintains just enough momentum to be a spoiler, but not enough to be THE GUY. And Newt Gingrich… is still here. So the race will move along.
CNN estimates that Mitt Romney has about 386 of the 1,144 delegates needed to get the nomination; Rick Santorum has about 158. This seems to indicate that none of the candidates are more than a third of the way to securing a run at the presidency.
I have to wonder how that’s possible.
And then I remember that the actual primary started in January. It feels like this contest has been going on forever because the candidates have been entering straw polls, debates, and denouncing Obama since early summer. Hell, Mitt Romney pretty much kept going after Barack Obama’s election. And the way things are shaping up, we could last all the way to convention time. By contrast, John McCain became the presumptive nominee after the first few contests of 2008.
So we, or at least I, really don’t have context for a protracted Republican Primary.
Is it a problem? The way the RNC explains it, this was the point. 2012′s primary was designed to emulate the lengthy contest Democrats experienced in 2008. Michael Steele, RNC chair at the time 2012 primary rules were established, argued:
We wanted to give every candidate a fair shot to make their case to the Republican base, and that’s the bottom line… We wanted to make it competitive. The members were tired of the nomination fight being over in six weeks.
Despite complaints from Romney supporters, it seems like this is exactly what was supposed to happen. And isn’t this really what we want from a democracy? There have been six months of debates, and no one has been disqualified for anything that seemed overtly unfair. And it looks like every state is going to get to weigh in on the Republican nominee.
Isn’t this what we wanted?
If so, why does it feel so awful?
Republicans seem to hate that the contest is going the distance. Could that be perhaps because Barack Obama can wait in the wings for the eventual challenger? And the only praise Democrats can offer is given to the mayhem the primary appears to wreak on the Republican candidates. Do moderates even care? Almost nothing the candidates say is moderate, so it’s not like they have any staying power with that group. Maybe the problem is that this is, ideally, what we want, and instead of making us marvel at the democratic process, we find ourselves steeped in cynicism.
Congress’ job approval rating stands around 11.3% right now, while about eight in 10 Americans say they aren’t doing a good job at all. That is abysmal. But what’s really crazy is that it’s been like that so long that it seems normal.
Perhaps the problem is how irrational the process makes voting seem. I’ve been reading a book about the corrupting effects of campaign finance. The author, Lawrence Lessig, says that the way we fund elections causes an erosion of public trust. It doesn’t matter whether actual wrong is done because the perception of inappropriate influence erodes our belief in governance.
Whether or not you believe campaign finance is the cause, it’s clear the public’s trust in government has been tepid for a while. Maybe it’s the reason our voter turnout sucks. Whatever the case, it is a problem and Lessig points to a quality of voting that we tend to ignore. Voting has become irrational.
Here, rationality means that it’s worth the resources I expend for a specific act. If I’m getting less than I’m giving, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to do it. And if I’m getting nothing, it makes no sense at all.
Let’s say I’m Average-Joe voter, and I think special interests are buying the government. I probably feel certain that the government isn’t really doing what I want. And if it is doing what I want, it’s not because I want it to. Regardless of the candidate, the issue, or the party, I’m pretty sure the government won’t get it done. Why should I waste my time learning about all the issues going on at every level of government? It doesn’t make sense for me to watch hours and hours and hours of debates and then do hours and hours and hours of fact checking if the results are the same.
Even worse, it actually seems like a waste of time that I could be using to do something productive. It doesn’t matter whether the cause of my mistrust is actually doing harm or not. The fact that I believe government isn’t working for me, and by proxy the people, makes it irrational to vote. There’s your source of cynicism. And when people don’t vote, it’s easier for extremists to get into office. More cynicism.
Government is an awfully complex machine, and I can’t say with any certainty why it doesn’t do what a majority of its citizens want. It could be because all the candidates are crazy. Maybe it has something to do with the Electoral College or all of the gerrymandering we do.
For my money, I think it has a lot to do with a propensity towards two parties and corporate lobbying. Even if you don’t believe these are the cause, you have to realize that this is a problem.
Below are a couple of videos that elegantly explain some of the problems that dissuade people from voting.