Friday, March 07, 2008

Proportional Primaries: How Do You Like Me Now?

In choosing to embrace proportional rather than winner take all primaries, the Democrat Party, true to its nature, was being democratic. But, in fact, proportional primaries, in which delegates are assigned in proportion to the votes cast, this year have elongated the primary season.

For Republicans, the primary season was closed at the beginning of March. Democrats have miles to go before they sleep. The long Democrat primary season virtually assures a brokered convention, bruised egos and a disappointed Democrat electorate.

This is simply another way of saying that Democrats have shortened the time they may devote to the general election. Whether or not a shortened general election will prove to be a bust or boom for Democrats is very much an open question.

There are two schools of thought: One holds that the incessant squabbling between senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during the duration of the Democrat primary will keep the two in the news, while Republican Sen. John McCain will suffer in obscurity. This theory is based on the dubious notion that even bad news is good news.

The other school of thought holds that primaries are, by their very nature, distortion mechanisms. Primary messages are directed to the left and right wings of the parties. During the primaries, we’ve seen Republican contestants feeding the beast on the right and Democrat contestants feeding the beast on the left. In general elections, however, the audience changes, and candidates modulate their views in an attempt to appeal to a wider voting group that may be less driven by ideology. The danger in protracted primaries is that party activists tend to push candidates to the ends of the ideological spectrum, a political territory that is but a hop, skip and a jump from the abyss.

A long primary season in which both Democrat candidates are pushed further left, each one trying to outbid the other by appealing to the left wing of the party, can only help McCain. A long primary season will shorten the less ideological general election season and entice both Democrat candidates to burn their moderate bridges behind them.

On the down side, McCain is likely to fade from the front pages of the newspapers. But McCain, viewed by many outside the party as a moderate Republican, can arrest the fade out by attacking, when appropriate, both Democrat candidates and a too partisan, log-jammed congress. The congress, whose committees are dominated by Democrats, has a popularity rating lower than that of President George Bush.

In the meantime, Democrat primary opponents are showing signs of self destruction. Obama, who prides himself on his early opposition to the war in Iraq -- a position that even some notable conservatives have seconded very late in the game -- has successfully pressured Clinton to agree to an entirely irresponsible withdrawal of troops.

McCain has carved out a much different position: The entrée into the war may have been ill advised; it certainly was botched, because too few troops were committed early on, and the war’s architects did not anticipate the desperate steadfastness of terrorists linked to Iran and Syria. But now that some provinces in Iraq, formerly terrorist havens, have been turned over to a more hardened Iraqi army, and able generals, led by General David Petraeus, have turned the tide of war in Iraq in our favor, a precipitous withdrawal would return the entire region to the ash heap of a history we cannot safely abide.

The real lesson of Vietnam may be that the Islamic terrorists are not the Viet Cong. Before the hotly despised Bush entered the White House hand in hand with the equally hotly despised Vice President Dick Cheney, sometimes supposed to be the president’s Machiavellian evil twin, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was hard at work murdering Americans.

McCain is uniquely situated to remind his fellow congressmen that while Americans prefer to speak softly and carry a big stick, neither do they like to lose struggles to terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who specialized in killing Americans and was dubbed by Osama bin Laden as “the lion of jihad” and “the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq."

Obama, who was unfamiliar with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organization started by al-Zarqawi, apparently hadn’t done his homework.

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