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December 7, 2007


We’re on the cusp of what could be a major presidential brawl. While the national polls and pundits would have us believe that the choices are clear, the polls are moving up and down in a number of key states for candidates in both parties. So campaigns will toil across the land for the next few weeks – through Christmas! – to drum up new support and retain those already in the tent. But as far as I’m concerned this ain’t democracy, it’s Kabuki Theater.

In states that hold primaries – like New Hampshire – the emphasis is on big money and machine politics, and the process is little more than a formality meant to make the voting public feel as though they have a meaningful role in the parties’ nominating process. Candidates spend a few million dollars saturating print and broadcast media with slick propaganda. Come “election day,” they seal the deal with a freshly brewed pot of coffee and a bag of donuts, they rent a bus and drive a load of gray-hairs to Town Hall. Then they declare victory and go home to repeat the same process in four years.

I’ve railed against the presidential primary system before in this column, and I will rail against it again before this election is over, so I won’t spend a great deal of time explaining the Spinney Plan, my modest proposal for revamping the nation’s ridiculous presidential primary system. Instead, I’m getting excited about the Iowa Caucuses which convene – across the state – on Jan. 3. It’s a good idea that ought to be replicated.

You see, in spite of what the national polls and pundits say, caucuses aren’t a one-vote proposition. Pegging your hopes on turning out a bunch of old biddies is a losing strategy. What’s important in a caucus is not only being first choice for a significant chunk of voters, but also being second – and even third – choice. Your appeal has to have depth, and you need smart, committed people on the ground who can rally support among those who like the also-rans.

Caucuses don’t favor one trick ponies, polarizers, or machine politicians. They do favor candidates with a broad, committed, activist base. In a tight race, like we have right now with both the Democrat and Republican parties, someone running in third can easily jump to a win. Even a candidate pacing fourth might be in a position to cobble together a caucus coalition and find themselves a surprise winner.

This is precisely why Iowa matters. And it’s why I’m also endorsing the efforts of the people behind the National Presidential Caucus, coming up on December 7.

The NPC is a non-partisan coalition that envisions the Internet as a true facilitator of national political discussion, not just a YouTube-inspired gimmick for kooks and planted political operatives who want to see themselves on CNN. The idea is simple: gather people together around the country on one day to discuss the issues and the candidates and see what happens.

According to the folks at NPC, the objective is to level the playing field and increase discussion and discourse prior to what many are calling the “national primary” on February 5th, the date when the Republican and Democrat National Committees will “allow” the respective states to hold their primaries and, as a result of those rules, when many states will hold their primaries.

NPC’s organizers see this as a coalescing of the many fragmented gatherings, organized and promoted via the Internet, that took place during the 2004 election in which as many as 5 million people are estimated to have participated. It’s also an acknowledgement of the reality of national political and causal campaigning today – with the kind of enthusiastic following that has buoyed candidates like Ron Paul.

And unlike a lot of other efforts that claim politics will some replace, undo or improve politics, the NPC sees the Internet – and its power to reach people – as a tool, not a phenomenon. The fun is in actually gathering with other like-minded people to discuss issues important to regular folks. It’s participatory democracy in action.

Don’t worry. I haven’t abandoned the Spinney Plan in favor of the National Presidential Caucus. In fact, I see the NPC as complementary to the Spinney Plan’s voting system since NPC offers a national caucus that builds enthusiasm prior to and presages the results of a the structured, two-tiered primary that – were I in charge of national politics – we’d have adopted a long time ago.

In the meantime, realism must prevail. The Spinney Plan is a vision for the future so I encourage you to seek out a local gathering point for the National Presidential Caucus on December 7.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 5:36 PM | Permalink

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