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Wed

23

Jan

2008

On Running Mates & Other Election Matters
Wednesday, 23 January 2008 13:44
by Bernard Weiner

As we get deeper into primary season, here are a number of issues — including even more disquieting election anomalies from New Hampshire — that are worth considering.

For all intents and purposes, the Democratic Party might well know in a few weeks, after SuperDuper Tuesday February 5, who its presidential nominee will be. The Republicans, despite wide divisions among its various party factions, may also have their nominee chosen.

However, the situation is so fluid in both parties — the Democrats' top two contenders running neck-and-neck, the Republicans' top three shifting state by state — that it's possible, though unlikely, that we won't know who the nominees will be until the Summer.

THE DEMOCRATS' CHOICES

It seems fairly certain that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will carry the Democratic Party's banner into the November campaign. The more populist John Edwards — largely marginalized these past months by the party and the mass media, both afraid of the economic populism he represents — still lags far behind in third, though he still has a good shot at some of the Super Tuesday states.

I've just sent another check to Edwards' campaign, out of a belief that it's important to have that more progressive voice out there, forcing Clinton and Obama — who are both in the centrist middle — to respond to economic and other issues Edwards raises so passionately.

The assumption here is that the Republicans will choose either Romney or McCain, with Huckabee trailing in third place, and that Michael Bloomberg will be a non-starter even if he decides to mount a third-party run, which I don't think he'd be foolish enough to do.

THE REPUBLICANS' CHOICES

It's safe to say that the GOP nominee, whoever he is, will be a pro-war, Bush-lite candidate who will feel obliged to cater to the party's fundamentalist/authoritarian base, but also one able to make connections with Independent voters who will help decide the November election.

Which leads me to suspect that the Republican ticket might well turn out to be McCain/Huckabee or Romney/Huckabee, all of whom, even with their considerable political baggage, seem able to connect with ordinary voters.

On the other hand, this is such a wacky election season that the Republican nominee, for balancing purposes, might well decide to name Condi Rice as his running mate. Or Gen. Petraeus. Or Dick Cheney. Or Attilla the Hun. But I repeat myself.

COMPLETING THE TICKETS

But what might the Democratic ticket look like? I'm open to your input here.

So here are my guesses as to a possible Democratic running mate; see what you think of these vice-presidential choices, which are presented in no particular order of preference.

If Hillary takes the prize:
Clinton/Edwards
Clinton/Obama
Clinton/Dodd
Clinton/Richardson
Clinton/Feingold
If Barack wins it:
Obama/Clinton Obama/Edwards
Obama/Biden
Obama/Dodd
Obama/Richardson
Obama/Napolitano
DEMOCRATIC VICE PRESIDENT

Let's suppose here that Clinton is the Democratic nominee. Given her ultra-high negatives — roughly 35-40% of the population has indicated they probably could never vote for her — it seems that her choice of vice-presidential running mate is much more important than such a choice has been for other Dem candidates in years past. She needs someone popular, more liberal than she is, and probably a male from another area of the country. I'm assuming that neither Edwards nor Obama would accept a place on her ticket — although Clinton/Obama or Clinton/Edwards would make for a mighty strong pairing — even if she were to offer it. That brings us to the Westerners Feingold and Richardson.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico brings administrative expertise, wide experience in foreign policy, and, even though he's something of a lovable flake, exudes a certain gravitas. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin unfortunately decided to pass on making a presidential run this year, but his dedication to the rule of law, his passionate defense of the Constitution, and his knowledge of intelligence matters would add solid weight to Clinton's ticket. (One could point to some of the same strengths in Chris Dodd, but the Connecticut senator wouldn't balance the ticket geographically — two "Eastern liberals" and all that.)

Obama would need to balance his ticket in other ways. Again, assuming Clinton and Edwards were to turn him down, were he to offer them the veep slot, I should think he'd need someone with lots of experience, especially in foreign affairs, which would make Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Gov. Richardson attractive. But he might want to balance geographically and gender-wise as well, and thus Gov. Napolitano of Arizona might have a good shot. And Chris Dodd might be on his short list as well.

REFORMING THE DEBATE PROCESS

Moving on to other election issues, it seems clear that the current system of primary debates is mightily deficient and needs a thorough overhaul.

For one thing, the parties, not outside groups, should sponsor the debates, and the parties should decide the rules for inclusion (leaning toward being inclusive, not elitist) and on who should moderate the debates.

The questioners should be bona fide political reporters, not blowhard talk-show hosts; this time out, Russert and Matthews and the Fox crew were embarrassments, openly wielding their political axes to grind; their trivial comments and "gotcha"-type questions dumbed-down the entire proceedings.

The contenders should be permitted more time for their answers, so that we get fewer sound-bites and more sense of their underlying philosophies. Roundtable discussions, where the candidates are sitting close to one another, works better in this regard than behind-the-podium stump-speech excerpts.

ADDRESSING THE REAL ISSUES

One of the reasons why we need better moderators is that, on the whole, the questioners shied away from some of the biggest issues of the day. Among them:

The overall imperial direction of American foreign policy; the ongoing occupation of Iraq and how to get U.S. troops out of there; the great damage done to the Constitution in terms of civil liberties, habeas corpus, privacy, domestic spying; the need for immediate action on global warming; corruption and morality in government; the denigration of science; the role of the administration in keeping the economy stable and growing; the growing desire of Cheney and Bush to attack Iran; the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; the "war on terror"; media conglomeration; our corruptible election system; impeachment; etc., etc.

We need to know where the would-be presidents stand, and why, on these great issues of the day. By and large, the questions in past debates have tended toward the already understood and the trivial.

SHORTER ELECTION CAMPAIGNS

The long, drawn-out primary schedule derives from a much earlier, pre-radio/TV, pre-internet era in American political history, when it was was necessary for candidates to travel widely by horse or train to get around the country, all of which took a long, long time.

There is no good reason to stretch out the primary and campaigning for more than a year and a half. Communication these days is so widespread and rapid that we simply don't need all that hop-scotching around the country for a year.

Why not emulate campaigns elsewhere in the world by drastically shortening the primaries to, say, two or three months — perhaps in four regional primaries spread out over that period? And the actual campaigning time could be confined to, say, three months.

MAJOR REFORM OF VOTING SYSTEM

To obviate all the technological glitches in the current fascination with touch-screen and op-scanner voting machines — which are easily hackable and manipulatable — why not go the Canadian and French route: paper ballots counted by hand, with party observers in the rooms as the tabulating goes on? True, the TV networks might not be able to announce the full results by the evening of the elections — although the counting goes surprisingly fast — but isn't it more important to get the totals right, free of suspicion of tampering, than to get a quick, potentially false report?

MORE NEW HAMPSHIRE ANOMALIES

My essay last week on America's deficient election system, New Hampshire: U.S. Election System Still in SNAFU Mode, ( www.crisispapers.org/essays8w/snafu.htm ) yielded a number of trenchant comments from readers, especially about things that went wrong in the Granite State primary.

I had mentioned how odd it was that the 39%-36% Clinton-Obama vote totals never varied during the entire ballot-counting process, which hardly ever happens in politics. Several readers noted that essentially the same was true for John Edwards' total (17%) and for Ron Paul. It was as if the final vote percentages were somehow locked into place at the beginning.

I noted that in one town, Sutton, an entire family voted for Ron Paul but that Paul received no votes in that precinct's official tally. Now we get an even more outrageous anomaly: Kucinich had votes disappear after they'd been recorded!

A reader sent in screen shots from ABC's primary coverage. ( www.crisispapers.org/features/corres.htm#nh ) Here's what those screen shots showed me: At 8:52 p.m., with 23% of Democratic ballots counted in New Hampshire, Kucinich had 1789 votes, or 3% of the total. At 9:31 p.m., just a little more than a half-hour later, with 43% of the ballots counted, Kucinich now had 1638 votes, or 2% of Democratic votes cast. One hundred and fifty-one votes had vanished! No wonder Kucinich was upset enough to pay for an official recount!

One can well imagine that the ongoing recount, whenever the final results are announced, will reveal even more such disaparities and anomalies, for other candidates as well. For some preliminary examples, go to Brad Friedman's bradblog.com, which is replete with them. For example, here ( www.bradblog.com/?p=5546), here ( www.bradblog.com/?p=5553), here (www.bradblog.com/?p=5568), and here ( www.bradblog.com/?p=5572).

In short, New Hampshire (and similar stories from other states across the country) demonstrate how untrustworthy and insecure our current voting procedures are — and have been in state and national elections from at least 2000 on. November 2008 may turn out to be yet another electoral disaster, with major technical glitches, human errors, deliberate manipulations of vote totals, etc.

Reform of the system should be mandatory before another botched or rigged election takes place in this country. We've been warned. #

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: crisispapers@comcast.net .
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