A crazy system that somehow works

Hold the name “Gordon Brown” for a few seconds while we digress.

Foreigners often suggest that the way we conduct our electoral politics is insane and Super Tuesday could be seen as giving them some ammunition for that thought.

Super Tuesday is the biggest single determinant in how we choose our presidential candidates — 22 contests across four time zone and Alaska. And not even the same kind of contests; some are primaries, some are caucuses. And different rules. The Republicans favor winner-take-all; the Democrats, proportional allocation.

The geographic spread makes effective campaigning impossible in all but a few venues. There is no commonality of geography or demography. Delaware is right in there with Utah.

Super Tuesday made exorbitant demands on the candidates’ stamina, finances and staff. And the candidates have been campaigning since last year. Most of them didn’t even make it as far as Super Tuesday. Of the 18 Democrats and Republicans who started the race, six are left; two Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and four Republicans, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul.

And Super Tuesday really didn’t settle anything. Sure, McCain may be close to wrapping up the nomination but the Democrats could go all the way to their convention.

OK, maybe it is insane but consider: There is nothing about these candidates — their positions and policies, their personal histories, their performance under pressure, their personalities — that any reasonably alert voter couldn’t find out, thanks to the full court press and cable TV coverage, the political blogs and the debates. These may be the most scrutinized candidates in history and the real campaign won’t even start until the fall.

This is also a game anyone can play. The 19th century political sage George Washington Plunkitt, whose “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall” should be required in every high school civics class, said that if you show up at a political clubhouse and volunteer to work you will never be turned away. Virtually any citizen could be part of a Super Tuesday campaign simply by joining it.

And this brings us back to Gordon Brown. He became prime minister of Great Britain without the British ever electing him to that post. His successor simply bequeathed him the job. It’s possible he’ll never face the electorate.

Gordon Brown would never have gotten out of Iowa.

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