I’m a Hoosier, and a Democrat. So wake me after November. Because I have no role in choosing our next president.
By the time Indiana voters make our picks for the May 4 primary, the choice of nominee will almost certainly be a fait accompli.
The political story of the new year is the fascinating race for the Democrat presidential nomination. Howard Dean has a comfortable lead in the polls and endorsements from Al Gore, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and, most significantly, Martin Sheen. The call to start uniting behind Dean is a bit annoying, given that not a single vote has been cast. But maybe that is the reality of the “wealth primary,” where in every presidential election since 1984, the candidate with the most money raised the year before the election has won his party’s nomination. Dean intrigues me. The former Vermont governor found his campaign traction last winter by passionately denouncing Bush’s Napoleonic foreign policy and Marie Antoinette economic plan (why doesn’t W. like the French?). Happily, Dean’s success has made blunt-talk politically fashionable again. But Dick Gephardt’s health care plan is more ambitious than Dean’s, and thus closer to what working poor and middle-class folks, not to mention most medium-to-small businesses, need. And Gephardt supports an international minimum wage, an intriguing approach to halting the global race to the salary bottom. Dennis Kucinich promises to make a place in his cabinet for a Peace Department, pursue full employment and put the brakes on exploitative U.S. labor practices here and abroad. Willie Nelson is doing benefit concerts for him, which suggests Kucinich is both cool and has a good plan for IRS reform. John Kerry talks about four years of college being as common and affordable as a high school education is today. Wesley Clark is a serious internationalist, a prerequisite for a successful presidency. I am skeptical of candidacy-by-biography, but I admire both Kerry and Clark for getting shot at in Vietnam and then saying others shouldn’t have the same thing happen to them. I’m not particularly fond of Joe Lieberman’s Republicrat politics, and not too excited about John Edwards or Carol Mosely-Braun, either. But wouldn’t it be fun to watch Al Sharpton give a sharp-tongued beating to George W. Bush in a televised debate?
1 million meaningless votes
Given these interesting alternatives, I would like to go to the polls and have an impact on the choice of presidential nominee. But I can’t. By the time Indiana voters make our picks for the May 4 primary, the choice of nominee will almost certainly be a fait accompli. With the new “frontloaded” primary system of more and more states going to polls early, the vast majority of the Democrat convention delegates will have been chosen before Hoosiers can weigh in. So I should just wait until November’s general election, when my vote for the most powerful person in the world will be meaningful, right? Uh, no, thanks to the electoral college. In Indiana, all of the presidential electors come from the party that received the majority of the state’s popular vote. In 2000, nearly 1 million Hoosiers who voted for Al Gore or anybody except George W. Bush might as well have stayed home and practiced our audition routines for American Idol, because Indiana counted 12-0 for Bush. Which sucks, especially since the electoral is a more historically elitist college than Harvard and Yale put together. Our not-always-wise founders put in a system where men like Virgil Scheidt and Max Middendorf (two of Bush’s Indiana 2000 electors) cast the state’s presidential votes for the rest of us, thanks very much. There are some efforts toward reform. On the primary system, the National Association of Secretaries of State, whose members usually oversee their state’s elections, has called for the creation of a system of rotating regional presidential primaries, spaced out over four months. “This proposal injects a bit of fairness in the process,” says Indiana’s Secretary of State Todd Rokita. “In the current primary process, we have taken the choosing away from the political bosses only to give it to pollsters, party activists, donors and political reporters.” After George W. Bush lost the popular vote yet won the presidency in 2000, there was a lot of talk about a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college and let the popular vote decide, a reform the League of Women Voters has championed since 1970. But no significant steps have been taken. Which leaves nearly a million voting Hoosiers still irrelevant. There is some freedom in possessing a wasted vote, though. A liberal Democrat like me could feel free to cast a vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 without worrying about hurting the centrist Democrat candidate’s chances. Which has me thinking for this year ... Wonder if Al Sharpton will do a write-in candidacy?