“There is an old Thai proverb to the effect that it is worthwhile to try and help an elephant that is trying to stand up, but perfectly useless to help one that happens to be falling down.”
— Frances Fitzgerald, “Fire in the Lake”
“I’ve gone to sleep nights wondhrin’ where I’d throw away me vote ... an’ whin I woke up there was that crazy-headed ol’ loon iv a party with its hair sthreamin’ in its eyes, an’ an axe in its hand, chasin’ raypublicans into th’ tall grass. ’Tis niver so good as whin ’t is broke, whin rayspectible people speak iv it in whispers, an’ whin it has no leaders an’ on’y wan principle, to go in an’ take it away fr’m th’ other fellows.”
— Finley Peter Dunne, “Mr. Dooley’s Opinions”
If you believe it’s high time to do away with the charade the Democratic and Republican parties have made of the primary election process, have I got a deal for you.
Let’s do away with the primaries and the general election itself. Completely.
Let’s choose our next president (are you ready for this?) by lottery.
The infrastructure already is in place. All we have to do is declare the Powerball winner in November president of the United States of America, commander in chief of the armed forces, and leader of the free world. Chances are he or she will be as good or better than we’re apt to get from either the Democrat or Republican side this year.
(I know what you’re thinking. What if the Powerball winner is not qualified by reason of age, citizenship or whatever to be president? Simple! We draw another number, and if necessary another after that until an eligible person turns up. Hail to the chief!)
If this idea catches on, the potential benefits are enormous. The lottery would be cheaper, less time consuming and vastly more democratic than the system now in place. Vice presidents and Supreme Court justices could be subject to luck of the draw as well.
There would be no need to print ballots, no need for poll workers. The system could spread like wildfire.
House and Senate members would not have to spend 90 percent of their time raising money to run for re-election. If the states, municipalities, and counties go along with the idea, governors, mayors, and so forth could be chosen by lottery.
We could dump voting machines. Irritating political robo-calls would be consigned to the dustbin of history, where they belong.
No more billboards, signs, editorials and columns touting people most voters have never heard of, or if they have, can barely stomach.
And, hurrah! No more of those so-called political “debates” designed of, for and by the networks to “entertain” low-information viewers who would much rather be frozen in front of their television sets by regular programming.
The foregoing is never going to happen, of course. Nor should it. But the system by which we choose our presidents needs a radical overhaul.
Let’s get back to basic principles. Yes, we are a republic. We are not a democracy, however much we may pretend we are.
Political parties, for far too long, have made a mess of things in our country.
And you know what? The people who run them, the party “elite,” are not all that bright.
They are the ones, however, who make the rules the party conventions follow. They are the ones who have the power to overrule the majority who voted for this candidate or that in the primary elections.
If they decide that the “people’s choice” is not someone they think fit to be president, or one who can win in the general election, they can choose someone else. The rules permit it.
In extraordinary circumstances, if there’s a problem with the rules, they can change them after the people have spoken. They say this is “legal,” and it is.
But it is not democratic. The America bequeathed to us by the Framers of the greatest political document in the history of mankind — the U.S. Constitution — has been re-defined and twisted from its original design by well-meaning people of all political persuasions throughout our history into something they, the Framers, would scarcely recognize today.
Some of the changes that have been made were necessary and in keeping with the will of the people. (More recent ones, I would argue, were not.)
If you believe, as I do, in the collective wisdom of the American people, in time the American people will get all of this sorted out.
If, that is, there is sufficient time to do it.
R. L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.