[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Montaner On U.S. Primary Process

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Montaner On U.S. Primary Process

Carlos Alberto Montaner has an interesting opinion on how Americans should select their presidential candidates in an editorial published in today's Miami Herald.

Basically, he wants the American voters to stay out of the process. Complete editorial to follow with comments afterwards:
The New York Times proposes that Hillary Clinton and John McCain should be the candidates who reach the finish line alive. A surprise might pop up, but if they're the final two, the choice is not bad. Both are intelligent, moderate and experienced. Besides, both are prudent, and that's the essential virtue of a true statesman.

What seems to be a bit scatterbrained is the American way of selecting the nation's leaders. The U.S. primaries are set up not to choose the best candidate or the potentially better president but the candidate who has or amasses greater economic resources, a better campaign organization or shrewder strategists, or who pummels a challenger the hardest most strenuously. The debates are not very persuasive, either. They're much too rigid and leave no time for argumentation. There is a feeling that we're looking at a show where the better actor ''wins.'' In any case, the fundamental task of a chief of state or government is not usually a brilliant exposition but the selection of the better (or less bad) option when dealing with diverse conflicts or causes of action. That's an ability that is very hard to find amid a mountain of mottoes, slogans and hollow words.

Naturally, there is no perfect way to select the right candidates, but some specialists lean toward a kind of hybrid between the College of Cardinals, which elects the pope, and the Hollywood Academy, which selects the movies and actors that deserve the Oscars. In both cases, the people who choose are specialists, and the selection process consists in gradually discarding those who receive fewer votes in successive ballots.

Let's look at this in practice. The Green Party, with a million members, envisions in its statutes the creation of two large electoral committees. One of them will select the candidates who will compete for the nomination, while the other chooses who will finally represent the party. Why two different committees? Obvious: to limit the leaders' ability to manipulate. The defense of individual rights, which must be the objective of societal organization, consists in fragmenting the authority of those who hold power.

Who forms these committees? Literally, thousands of people selected by vote within the party. Let's give them numbers. The party elects a 300-member Selection Committee, which is given 100 nominations -- i.e., the names of 100 candidates. The committee holds nine consecutive ballots; in each, it eliminates the 10 percent least-favored candidates. At the end, only 10 candidates remain.

At this point, the other committee comes into play, repeating the process but with only 10 finalists, who will be eliminated one by one in nine secret and consecutive ballots, until the official candidate is elected. Who will it be? No doubt, the candidate who provokes the least rejection. The candidate who generates the broadest consensus. His party colleagues have selected that individual because they know his or her credentials, not because of the candidate's wealth or fundraising prowess or potential success in debates.

A procedure of this kind, though in no way guaranteeing the selection of the best candidate, limits (never eliminates) three very dangerous ills:

Unhealthy deals between the economic interests and the politicians.

Ill feelings among the various hopefuls, which seriously affect coexistence within the party.

The feeling among the unchosen that they were the victims of injustice.

In essence, democracy is a method to make collective decisions that are rationally legitimate, but the form is as important as the content. When the form is deficient, the parties break and discredit themselves. And that, as everyone knows, is not good for anybody.

©2008 Firmas Press

At first I was ready to dismiss Montaner's method as out of touch with the American tradition and just as likely to be plagued by cronyism and inequalities. However, it does offer some interesting insight and it's always good to reexamine the way we do things from time to time.

Montaner himself admits his solution isnt' perfect. He wants people in the know, people inside the parties and most likely at high levels to make the call on our candidates to run for president. Sure, financial inequalities, internal bickering and often lifeless debates turn many people off from the current process. However, most Americans would still want to be involved in the process. The current system is far from perfect, but by going through the traditional process of campaigning in primaries, voters learn a lot about the candidates' character. We get to see them day in and day out, ad nauseum, but we see them nevertheless. The educated voter will usually make an intelligent choice on primary election day, and that's something we should never take for granted. Besides, money doesn't appear to be playing that big of a role so far, with Obama and Romney, the candidates with the most $$, trailing in the polls.

In the end, the American electoral process is about giving the voters their say from the very beginning. Letting party big shots select the finalists may have its merits, but who's to say that there wouldn't be internal bickering and cronyism in that process? In fact there would probably be even more infighting, and it likely wouldn't be transparent to the public which would be very difficult for Americans to stomach. We like our political candidates out in the open, which is the way it should be.



Post a Comment

<< Home