While most of the news media is focused on the 2008 presidential primary elections, I've been thinking about 2012. The last few presidential cycles have featured primary contests held earlier and earlier (a phenomenon called front-loading). Various proposals for reform of the primary system abound. Most would feature a series of regional primaries, but all would allow the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary to start the ball rolling. There is no perfect reform of the primary process; certainly no system that will provide for every political eventuality. But I think that regional primaries is worth a try. And I also I think that it's time for Iowa and New Hampshire to step aside.
Both states claim that their long history of running early primary contests makes them ideally suited to start the process. I would argue otherwise, for a number of reasons. First of all, when it comes to long histories in the primary process, long is relative. The Iowa Caucus has been important in American presidential elections since 1976. New Hampshire can claim longer influence, since 1952. And while tradition is important, I would argue that this tradition is not worth preserving, especially in the presidential primary process, which has only been decisive in the election of American presidents since the 1970s. The very nature of primaries is for change to drive the dynamic.
Neither Iowa nor New Hampshire is representative of the United States. They are too white, too rural, and too parochial to adequately represent America. That alone should be enough to seal the deal.
The persistence of the Iowa Caucus has empowered the farm lobby to continue to exercise its iron grip on American politics. But America's farm subsidy program is just a colossal system of corporate welfare, benefiting giant companies like Cargill and ADM, not the family farmer. Family farms are no longer the foundation of America, let alone rural America, and we should quit pretending that this is the case. Yet another reason to end the Iowa and New Hampshire lock on being first.
The power of teacher's unions and the movement to retain local political control of schools in Iowa and New Hampshire is so great that no candidate will seriously discuss any of the education reforms these groups oppose. Public education may be working in Iowa and New Hampshire (by the way, I have strong suspicions about this claim, but that's a post for another day), but it is failing miserably elsewhere in the United States, most notably in the cities (of which there are none in Iowa and New Hampshire......and Des Moines does not count as a city). We need to have some meaningful discussions about fixing public education in the U.S. But that won't happen if candidates are forced to kow-tow to the educational hierarchy in these early primary states.
And how about poverty or health care reform? Iowa and New Hampshire have elderly populations covered by Medicare and both participate in Medicaid. But neither state has a population of uninsured with any level of empowerment; nor does the political culture of either state encourage such discussions. There is a problem with rural poverty in the United States, but it's not on the political agenda in either Iowa or New Hampshire. So poverty and health care reform won't make the national agenda.
I could go on. But the bottom line is that Iowa and New Hampshire have out-lived their usefulness as centers of presidential politics. It's time to recognize this reality and move on to a new system for selecting presidential contenders, one that gives all states a chance at exercising influence over this important decision.