NEW! Column

“America’s Got Candidates”

By - Jan 3rd, 2012 02:41 pm
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At the risk of sounding like sour grapes from the state next door, I’d really like to know why there’s so much buzz about Iowa. Just because it holds its caucuses before any of the primaries, why should the rest of us set any store by their results?

Iowa may be located pretty close to the geographic center of the U.S. (which is just outside Belle Fourche, South Dakota), but Iowa contains only about 1.5 percent of the land area of the United States. Iowans make up about 1 percent of the population of the country, and about 95 percent of them are Caucasians (while the rest of the country is moving on towards a non-white majority). And only about 7 percent of Iowans actually participate in the caucuses.

Iowa is so far out of the mainstream that the entire state has only arena and indoor football teams (one each), and no NBA basketball or major league baseball teams — though it does contain the “field of dreams” where the movie was filmed.

Taking a cue from that movie, apparently, if you hold an early caucus, they will come — all of the candidates — spending their money, eating in the local diners, kissing babies, and pressing the flesh, bent on impressing that small percentage of the Iowa population that attends the caucuses. That means that candidacies are made or broken by 7 percent of 1 percent of the U.S. population, people who probably show up because — especially in the dead of a midwestern winter — it is the only game in town.

Instead of allowing Iowa to force its choices on the rest of the country, maybe we should look into using more modern methods of choosing both parties’ presidential nominees. Here’s a thought: how about a national television show? They could call it “America’s Got Candidates” or perhaps, “So You Think You Can Run the Country?”

Anyone could get into the game, so long as he or she had the Constitutional qualifications: being a “natural born citizen of the United States” over the age of 35 who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years. There could be local auditions before a panel of judges who, at the end of the program, would announce to selected candidates, “Guess what! You’re going to Des Moines!”

On the night of the big broadcast, the selected candidates would each have three minutes to present a biographical statement (perhaps with a video of spouse, kids, and family pet), a statement of purpose (“Why I’m running for President” in fifty words or less), and a statement of what he or she proposed doing during the first 100 days of the new administration.

There would be a panel of three judges, all actual scholars of current events and of the Constitution. They could buzz a candidate if that candidate proposed something that a president just can’t do under the law. And if a candidate announced (as previous presidential candidates have) “I shall go to Korea,” or “I have a secret plan to end the war,” or “I will close down Guantanamo,” it would be up to the judges to challenge that statement, perhaps with a withering, “Yeah, how?” A sarcastic comment from the likes of a Simon Cowell or Piers Morgan could point out the fallacies in a candidate’s proposals, perhaps saying something like, “You know it isn’t legal for the president to do that, don’t you?” or “How would you get that through Congress?” or possibly, “Since you haven’t paid your taxes in the last five years, how can you speak for the American taxpayer?” Maybe even, “Are you out of your mind?”

Then people could vote online using an ID tied to their Social Security number, but with a user name and a strong password, just like with any other secure website.

Your party affiliation wouldn’t matter; after all, it doesn’t in November. The ballot would contain the names of everyone who had expressed an interest in running for that highest office in the land and had made it to the final broadcast. You would be asked to check off one of five spaces after each name: “I could vote for this person,” “I could vote for this person but I’d have to hold my nose,” “I’m neutral,” “I don’t like this candidate,” and “I’d vote for anyone else, even the devil incarnate, rather than this person.”

Before the voting period, the show could be rebroadcast a couple of times, or viewed on the Internet. Votes could be tabulated quickly using computers. Imagine being able to reject a candidate based on three unedited minutes alone in front of the camera! Or eliminate one who had been buzzed for failing to understand the concept of what a president can actually do!

As for choosing the actual nominee, both the Republican and the Democratic parties would be free to choose someone who’d scored badly, but then they’d have to explain their choice to the public. One viable explanation might be that the computers could spot ballots that contained high votes for all the candidates of one party and low ones for all the candidates of the other. But most people — once they realized that they’d be able to help influence both parties’ final choice of candidates — would probably refrain from silly dirty tricks and try to facilitate a choice between two candidates they could stomach.

Perhaps then we would get candidates that voters of all stripes would be willing to consider. At least the rest of us might have a chance to weigh in and be counted as early in the process as that small, rather unrepresentative, set of Iowans. Could the electoral process be any more of a circus than it is already?

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