As we progress towards climax in this election year, we see the chain-rattling apparition of a 2004-vintage Howard Dean warning us of Primaries Past, Primaries Present, and Primaries to Come.
My first visit was from the Ghost of Primaries Past, or the Specter, as I will come to call him. He was a portly white man dressed in old-style political gear, complete with a double-sash of buttons from both political parties, and a straw hat with two American flags sticking out of it. He presented a warning that was unheeded. In the 2004 season, nobody could have expected the popularity of one socialist doctor from Vermont. The internet proved to be a rich harvest, netting support in terms of manpower, money, and publicity. Dean landed Iowa, confident of victory, and found disappointment, falling victim to the infamous “Yearrrrgggghhhh”, the yell which spread like wildfire through the internet and ultimately spelled the demise of his candidacy. We saw the first seeds of fractured party unity which were now sprouting, yielding the likes of far-left candidates, those who would oppose the normal crop of middle-of-the-road candidates. We didn’t listen to the warning then of a party nearly hijacked by the Fringe elements.
Move ahead to 2006, and the Spectre showed me the election, an election dominated by an electorate upset with the status quo. But instead of the status quo, we were given new Congress of the “Status What?”, a Congress that continually has to kow-tow to the demands of the Fringe. And why do they have to do that? As was shown in 2004, the Fringe has the makings of political force. Where the typical voter has become apathetic and disenchanted with the political process, the Fringe are fanatics with a great deal of spare time and, seemingly, large amounts of disposable income. Politicians cannot risk alienating the Fringe. And just as elements of the Left’s Fringe were showing up en masse, the elements of the Right’s Fringe were beginning to materialize as well as a response to Fringe Left. It was at this moment we were joined by the ghost of Sir Isaac Newton, who reminded me that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Then he and the Specter departed for Luby’s.
I was then joined by another ghost, this one of Christmas Present, whom I will call the Shade. He was younger, leaner, with a hunger in his eyes. His presence demanded action, but I noticed he wasn’t wearing any political gear. He explained that he was young, and while he was invested in making a difference in the political spectrum, actually taking 30 minutes to vote would cut into valuable Wii time. He hands me a paper with polling information, and I can’t help but notice a disturbing trend. Candidates from the Fringes of both parties are on the rise, although their platforms are either directly from the Fringe or anathema to the core of the party.
The Shade points to the GOP, where the mainstream candidates have no traction, but one who espouses liberal values but holds similar religious beliefs is garnering support. One with solid experience but a non-mainstream religion is faltering, and others who support the core beliefs of the party are left behind because they lack “name recognition”. Only the Fringe would hold religion as the only qualifier for a man running for public office.
The Shade points to the DNC, where the frontrunner as of two months ago now trails because she does not appeal enough to the Fringe Left. And the new leaders? One suggests strict government control of everything, and the other has no real platform other than he likes things purple. And he’s got Oprah.
And at the end the Shade takes me to Iowa and shows me what the average voter thinks. As it turns out, most don’t want any radical changes, and most don’t want ordained religious in the White House. They want someone who’s a good leader, someone who speaks with confidence, someone who can lead and explain his or her actions. They want someone who’s not going to tilt the ship too far left or too far right, and they want someone who’s issues and platforms appeal to them. Yet in all of the candidates they find disappointment. When examining the likely nominees, they discover there is little to like, little to inspire, so they do not participate in selecting the candidate. But the Fringe– the Fringe is there, ever-influencing the process, and selecting people further and further away from the model of a Statesman.
Finally, the Shade takes me to New York, and to a restaurant, and we meet Bono. Why is Bono in my haunting, I say? “I’m Bono. I can do whatever I want!” And the Shade leaves me for an early lunch with the U2 frontman.
The last ghost comes to me, dressed in the long, dark robes of Primary Futures. He I will call the Revenant. I see nothing of his face, and his long, bony hand points to the future, and we go to primaries in 2012 and 2016. There he shows me candidates I do not recognize, leading numerous debates in 2010, already declared for the Presidency. There is complete news analysis, and millions of dollars are spent. But the public suffers from election fatigue, and the candidates who inspired in May 2010 are now exhausting in May 2011. The Revenant shows the Fringe candidates, rising as the public interest wanes, and the primaries in 2012 are barely won by the Fringe, nominating candidates who do not represent the mainstream of their parties. Third parties rise up, but garner little support, as they represent the Fringe as well. Americans are so disillusioned with the political process they they refuse to participate, and the parties end up with the extreme as their party’s nominee.
The general elections see a drop-off in the total percentage of people actually voting for President. It is a depressing outcome. With candidates who only pander to the big donors of their party, they increasingly have had to shift their views to match more of that of the Fringe. And what is left is a political process so polarized there is little for the common voter to find appealing.
I look, saddened, terrified, into the darkness contained by the hood of the Revenant. I look closer into the darkness and think I see something. I reach up, and pull the hood back. I’m confronted with a visage of mussed hair, stubble and bloodshot eyes. The morning breath is awful. “What were you expecting, death?” asks the Revenant, bringing a jelly donut to its mouth. “I’m all depressed, too. It’s 4 PM and I’m still wearing a bathrobe. Back then you had Pajamas Media. Now you’ve got Pajamas Portents.” The Revenant shrugs, stuffs the last of the pastry into its mouth, and departs into the ether.
And I wake up. It’s nearly Christmas, and I wonder if there’s anything I can do to stop the Punditry of Primary Future. And I say, yes! I can blog and ask the parties to stop nominating from artificial qualities and go back to nominating candidates that resonate with the voters.
But the fire in my belly fades, replaced by hunger. A hunger for change, a hunger of desperation.
Or is it a hunger for a chocolate donut with sprinkles?