21 February 2004

Wanna make the presidential campaign more real?

David Brooks writes incredibly intelligent prose this morning about the surreality of the presidential campaign process. Read it, and you’ll begin to understand why the process seems so disconnected from most Americans’ lives.


It’s the opposite of solitary confinement. From now until Election Day, you will never be alone, and you will never shut up….Remember, you are no longer a human being. You are a freak. You must manufacture certitude and omniscience to prove you’re a real leader.

Perhaps we should go back to the beginning of the 20th century, when presidential candidates did not do their own campaigns but instead had sugrrogates doing the work for them, while they conducted meetings on their porch every so often with the citizenry and the press. Of course, this might also have the benefit of strengthening party organizations, which research indicates would increase voter turnout. And although one might object to the idea that a Mark Hanna could rise again and effectively wield more power than the candidate (or the president, should the candidate become elected), why would this be any worse than the current system? Then, powerful party hacks were condemned for having lots of authority and power over the candidate; some regarded the candidate as simply a puppet of the party bosses. but are our candidates any less a set of puppets? Everything they say has to be field tested, they never interact in meaningful way with average citizens, and although they choose their own advisers, they seem to be at the mercy of the advisers (who are often party leaders and hacks in the same way as in the past) as much as when the parties chose the advisers for the candidates.

So how is it any better now than then?

(And I still think that then might have been better, as more people voted, possibly due to much stronger party organizations. There is some debate in the literature about this point, whether it was denominator effects or strong party organization that increased the proportion of voters in the first part of the twentieth century. But that’s for someone else to blog about, at least for today.)

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