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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson


Let the Ordeal Begin

Britain has plenty of problems, as the recent and shocking riots in London, Manchester and elsewhere painfully illustrate. In the wake of the unsettling unrest, Prime Minister David Cameron calls on Britons to fight back against further decline in standards and conduct. We watch with some horror, but also fascination. It is, after all, the Mother Country.

Yet, with all the obvious problems of class and race and decline, the Brits have it all over us when it comes to selecting a national leader. Cameron has never had to face an Iowa Straw Poll.

What does it say about a 235 year old democracy that we begin the selection process for one party’s leaders at a state fair in Iowa, where the candidates pay for a choice spot to erect giant tents, some with air conditioned, in order to entice “voters” with BBQ and loud music and utterly simple-minded sloganeering? Welcome to the start of the 2012 American presidential election.

If you were to assemble the top 500 officials in the national Republican Party – senators, members of Congress, governors, top mayors and former office holders – Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who won the Iowa straw poll last weekend, wouldn’t be in the top 15 candidates for President of the United States. The seasoned pros in the party know that nominating Bachmann would be a political disaster, yet the Tea Party darling is now considered one of three top contenders for the prize and all thanks to the 4,823 votes she recorded at the Iowa State Fair. That total put her a whopping 152 votes ahead of Texas libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, another person who couldn’t possibly be selected for high public office by a political jury of his peers.

Our process doesn’t necessarily produce the best leaders, but it certainly produces the world’s longest campaigns.

About the best that can be said for our system of selecting presidential candidates is that the winners have survived the ordeal; survived the lengthiest, most demeaning and often nearly devoid of substance process ever devised by the political mind of man, or woman.

That Michelle Bachmann could actually be considered a potentially serious contender for the presidency based upon a record of no accomplishment in the House of Representatives, a stellar ability to craft a simplistic one-liner and a position on the debt ceiling that puts her at odds with every serious economist in the world, not to mention every serious person in her party, is all one needs to know about our candidate selection process. Come to think of it, that description – minus the debt ceiling nonsense – could well have explained the current occupant of the White House at this stage of the political game in 2007.

So, while David Cameron in Great Britain and most leaders in the rest of the world were vetted and selected for political party leadership by a process of careful evaluation by their peers, we run our leaders through a series of increasingly choreographed “debates,” straw polls, caucuses and primaries that reward the person with the greatest physical stamina and the greatest ability to avoid the self-inflicted gaffe.

With Rick Perry, the Texas governor now in the GOP hunt – with perhaps more to come – don’t be surprised if the process of selecting a Republican standard bearer grinds on well into next spring. Consider this scenario: Bachmann, minus a meltdown, wins the Iowa caucus early in 2012. Mitt Romney wins the first primary in New Hampshire and Perry, at home below the Mason-Dixon Line and with the Christian right in South Carolina. wins in that always nasty early contest.

Should that happen, and it’s not inconceivable, the GOP will have three front runners and a contest with all the substance and decorum of a World Wrestling Federation grudge match. Tell me this is a good way to select a potential president.

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