by Peter Bearse
Perhaps John McCain felt he was too old to be touted as a “Comeback Kid” following his dramatic New Hampshire primary victory, but America is the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. So, we can collectively congratulate our old Republic for the fact that young people and other new voters have made our democracy feel young again.
New Hampshire’s primary is the envy of the 50 states. Now we know why. It is as true a test of the electorate as exists in the nation today. Voters made winners of candidates whom big media had written off. Pundits, pollsters and other political “pro’s” were sent packing with their tails between their legs. The big money Republican race horse, practically a favorite son, a summer resident, pulled up lame at the finish.
The subtitle of my book “We, the People,” released in 2004, is “Time For Us To Take Back Our Politics From The Political/Media Class That Has Taken It Over.” I also wrote that “The future is now.” It turns out that “now” is really right now, four years later in 2008. Since I’m an economist, not a political scientist, perhaps I can be forgiven for my optimism. Economists do a poor job predicting the timing of anything.
One of the many people interviewed for the book, former political consultant Ron Mills, characterized the rise of consultants as contributing to the decline of volunteerism and diminishing voter participation:
“Political pros are one of the modern priesthoods. Goal #1 is the survival of the priesthood….The consequence of this priesthood’s dominance of American politics in recent years has resulted in voters being treated as consumers, spectators and children of politicians and government that has been taken over by a small political class.”
2008 has already become a historic election year, not least because people have put the “pro’s” in their place. Voter turnout has vastly exceeded their expectations, with a nationwide increase of 150%. Another thesis of my book has also been fulfilled – that participation in the process of getting candidates elected amounts to more than just voting if people really want to “make a difference.” Note the grass-roots surge of people canvassing door-to-door, standing out with signs, etc., especially young people excited by Senator Barack Obama’s campaign.
On the Democratic side, Senator Clinton’s campaign is second best. Casual observation suggests that she uses a higher ratio of paid canvassers to unpaid volunteers than Obama. If so, then this ratio may prove to be a new predictor of electoral disadvantage.
Ironically, a losing campaign in terms of delegates may provide the best example of grassroots participation overall – the Ron Paul campaign. Among major Republican candidates, the McCain and Huckabee campaigns have also demonstrated the importance of people’s contributions of both time and small money over big money. McCain’s campaign victory here in NH was largely due to an extensive volunteer network. Huckabee has revived the grassroots energies of Christians whose volunteer efforts made such a big difference towards President Bush’s 2004 victory in decisive states like Florida.
John McCain, the Seabiscuit of American political race horses, faced down the War Admiral of Republican politics, Mitt Romney, in a thrilling stretch run that defied his critics and astounded his supporters. “When the pundits declared us finished, I told them: ‘I’m going to New Hampshire, where the voters don’t let you make their decision for them,’” And when they asked: “How are you going to do it? You’re down in the polls. You don’t have the money,” he answered, “I’m going to New Hampshire…to tell people the truth.’”
So, long before “Super Tuesday,” we NH-ites showed the country that voters will not be trifled with by big-league mercenaries – those who saturate the media with political fast food designed to sway the electorate’s appetite via reviews of the political menu by media elites. New Hampshire remains America’s best political bellwether. Why? Because we are a state where a people-based politics still holds sway and big money doesn’t talk so big. We led the way so that American democracy can now be called “the comeback kid” during the presidential primary season.
Now look ahead: Will this new surge of people into politics also extend to the upcoming Congressional races? Or will we see more of the old saw “Money talks and Bullsh—walks”? It’s not only Obama who needs to be reminded that there’s more chance (and need) of real change in the people’s House than in the oval office. But what’s harsh reality vs. the aura of charisma? Stay tuned. Your comments? Let’s blog on this
Dr. Peter Bearse is an international economist, Fremont Town Coordinator for McCain and author of “We, the People.” He lives in Fremont. Feedback is welcomed via firstname.lastname@example.org.