People get tired of the presidential primary election season. They get tired of pols (politicians) and polls, innumerable debates, campaigning, and the actual primaries, the political equivalent of “running for the Roses” (Garden).
I’ve read a number of articles proposing a reduction in the current number of primaries and caucuses. Some call for a limit on the time candidates can campaign. Others want to put all the primaries on one day. Still others yearn for a national primary, get it over in “one swell foop.”
But there’s value in multiple primaries over several months leading to national nominating political party conventions and ultimately the general election.
A long primary season wears us out, but more importantly it wears candidates out. We, therefore, get to see candidates under physical and emotional duress. How do they handle the stress? Are they healthy? Do they lie? What really is their character like? Do they have the stamina, the intellect, the experience to lead? Can they raise sufficient support? Are they likeable, trustworthy? Do they have a vision for the country?
In 1972, Sen. Edmund Muskie gave a speech during the presidential campaign defending his wife and demonstrating a high degree of emotion and even tears. The latter, though possibly understandable, nevertheless effectively ended his campaign. In 1992, Sen. Paul Tsongas dropped out of the Democratic primary race due to ill health. He died in 1997 at age 55, days before his first term as President would have ended had he been elected in 1992. Sen Bob Dole ran for President in 1996 as the Republican nominee. During the campaign the American public discovered the war hero and effective senator with an acerbic wit did not possess a temperament especially suited to the presidency.
In 2004, Gov. Howard Dean celebrated his good showing in the Iowa Democratic caucuses by issuing what became known as the “Dean Scream.” This bit of emotion made Dean look like a wild man and quickly eroded his support. Prior to his run for the presidency in 2008, Sen John Edwards conducted an affair, denied it when it became public, had a baby with the other woman, denied this too, and eventually admitted everything. His political future hit a dead-end. He’s still under indictment for allegedly misappropriating campaign funds to pay for the woman’s expenses. In 2011, Herman Cain suspended his campaign due to a growing list of women alleging sexual harassment and affairs.
These negative samples represent only a few examples of things we learn about candidates during presidential election primary campaigns. We also learn positive things. In 1980 and 1984 we learned even more about Ronald Reagan: that he was a leader, that he had moral courage, and that he held a well developed vision for the country.
Presidential primaries may be many and at times mundane. But they serve a purpose to democracy. They help us figure out who is who, what we want or are willing to put up with, and who might—hopefully—be a good person to whom we can entrust the future of the body politic.
Presidential election primaries are messy, but other non-democratic countries should be so blessed.
I like the primary season. It’s political theater and political sport. It’s like a long political playoff leading to the political Super Bowl every four years on Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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