A circular firing squad

Before anyone gets excited about Democratic presidential prospects next year, a perusal of modern day political history should amply remind one of the fallacy of overconfidence about a party that is utterly without a compass most of the time, even when Republicans are carrying the burden of a war and an unpopular lame duck president.

Once again it seems appropriate to quote humorist Will Rogers’ still valid assessment: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

That fact was demonstrated clearly when the Democratic National Committee took the Florida chapter of the party to the woodshed for violating the DNC’s edict that no voting in the presidential nomination sweepstakes with the exception of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary shall take place before next Feb. 5. The DNC would deny the fourth largest state its delegates to the national convention next summer unless it reverses its recent decision to hold its primary Jan. 29, a process that might take some doing because the state’s legislature, which sets the dates, is controlled by Republicans. The committee has given them 30 days to get the job done.

The drastic step that could alienate one of the nation’s more important voting blocks is a desperate move to bring some national party control and discipline back into a primary system whose wheels are about to come off as anger among large state affiliates grows over the continuing outsized influence of two relatively minor players, Iowa and New Hampshire. The larger states are moving rapidly and somewhat chaotically to exert their own force in the selection process by drastically revising their primary dates.

One need only go back to 1968 and 1972 to understand what can happen to a party that tries to please everyone and succeeds in pleasing no one. The Democratic national convention in ’68 was so rancorous over the Vietnam War that, as one sage pundit reported, the nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, could have done better in bankruptcy court. Four years later Sen. George McGovern’s Democratic nomination was even more worthless as the party disintegrated into squabbling one-issue factions in a convention that turned off more voters than Kansas Republican Alf Landon’s pathetic effort to unseat Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.

Only the Watergate scandal breathed new life in the Democrat’s presidential hopes in 1976 and that just narrowly. By 1980, the party had returned to its old ways with Sen. Edward Kennedy openly seeking the nomination and the machinery in such disarray that Jimmy Carter’s presidency was over after one term. Twelve years later Bill Clinton pulled the party back together only to see it stumble in 2000 when his vice president, Albert Gore, pretty much cut him out of the campaign, shunned his advice and lost the electoral vote. While Florida became the battleground for this historic debacle, Gore only needed to have won his home state, Tennessee, to win.

Now the stage seems set for more proof of Rogers’ assertion with an array of candidates hacking away at each other in more than a dozen debates and the DNC’s probably unenforceable efforts to bring about order in a party that has seldom had it. By the time the convention takes place, the nominee will have been chosen and it will be that person who will exert huge influence over what delegates will be seated at the Denver convention. It is hard to imagine that the Florida delegation will not be included.

In contrast, a handful of Republican hopefuls stuck with an unpopular war and a divisive president have at least held off committing fratricide in their debates, preferring to attack the Democrats. Wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who initiated the 11th commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of fellow Republicans? Most of the time that philosophy works, denying the other party a blueprint for defeating the eventual nominee.

As far as the selection process is concerned, it obviously is in need of serious rehabilitation. The Iowa caucus — important only since Carter’s first nomination — and the New Hampshire primary have been elevated too high for far too long, leaving states like Florida, California, Michigan and New York out of the process. Both parties need to find some way of including those states with the largest number of voters or revise the system into a regional affair. It would also cut down on the field, eliminating some of the less serious candidates. That would be a welcome relief.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. Donnat

    Last election, we didn’t have enough good candidates, this upcoming one, we have too many. I agree that we can still fumble the ball even when the opposition hands it to us, as they did in 2006. This revitalized party should focus its energy and put it to good use.

  2. RSW

    I grew up in a small town in Southeastern Minnesota. Back in 1960, my parents took me to see Richard Nixon, who was running against JFK. They were staunch Republicans in a strongly republican Congressional district. Nixon flew into a nearby large community, where he gave a speech and tried as best he could to hob nob with the crowd.

    I remember looking at the man when he was at the podium. I remember looking around the crowd and at my parents. I remember taking an immediate dislike to Nixon. I believe that it was that day, at about fourteen years of age, that I decided never to be a Republican.

    I have never been a Democrat. After serving in Vietnam, I went to a Democratic caucus and chose to run away from the process after noting the kind of people that were in control of the caucus floor. I became a man without a party.

    Neither party represents anything close to what this country was supposedly founded upon. The governments (federal, state, local) operate according to maritime law — the Uniform Commercial Code, to be exact, not the various state constitutions or the Constitution of the United States (that piece of paper). Under this state of affairs, it doesn’t matter how many parties we have, if they all line up at the door that currently lets them into Washington.

    None of the current batch of Republicrats will change anything that would be significant for the common man. Nor will any third, fourth, or fifth party. After all, the Constitution was written by the land holders and rich merchants that removed the ties to Britain’s Royalty. It was written to completely favor themselves. It just took this long to gather us all back in and take us back to the Middle Ages.

    It makes no sense to vote for one of a group of candidates that spend billions of dollars and more than a couple of years lining themselves up to become the figurehead of our country. Where did the billions come from? Maybe it is indeed time to treat the Constitution as a piece of paper, throw all of them out, and do it all over again. Even so, I will probably remain a man without a party. Considering the times we live in, parties are obsolete, anyway.


  3. mary cali

    I have less and less faith in the way we elect a president. The process is flawed from beginning to end. A parlimentarian executive system is looking good right now. BushCheney would be long gone if we had that system.

    The process is too costly and the money is too important. The primaries in Iowa and NH are totally unrepresentative of the rest of the country yet they have a determinant effect on the selection of candidates.

    The D party will only cut its own throat by punishing Florida for advancing primaries. As was stated, it is the Fl Republican legislature that controls the scheduling of primaries.