Monday, March 29, 1999

Week of 03/29/1999

Pandering To Extremists
The dirty little secret of winning primaries

- by David Matthews 2

So you want to get into politics, huh?

Think you can get in there, shake up the world, and make things right? Or maybe you think you’re some illegitimate Blues Brother on "a mission from God" to right the wrongs of the world? Or maybe you’re just in it for the perks and the lifetime pension program. Hey, don’t be ashamed if you are, you wouldn’t be the first one! Just look where it got Bill Clinton!

Well, you know that first you have to get elected. It’s not going to be easy, especially if there’s some no-good, greedy, self-centered, politician that already has that position. But before you even run against him or her, you’ll have to take care of any other candidates who would want your job.

So how do you do it? Simple - you pander to the extremists.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. If you have ever wondered if both the Democrats and Republicans have been gravitating more towards extremes, it’s not a figment of your imagination. This is one of the dirty little secrets of politics - if you want to win the primaries in these two parties, you have to suck up to the special interest groups, no matter how extreme they are.

Why? Simple - THEY VOTE! They have an interest in getting their agenda passed, so they’re making sure their supporters get off their duffs and into a voting booth!

But do you know what? If they’re the only ones getting to the voting booth, it’s pretty easy for the politicians to assume that their voices are the only ones that matter. Do you think that the Gods of Mount Morality are going to care what the average Joe and Jane Six-pack thinks when they complain about how high their taxes are getting, but they’re not angry enough to get off their duffs come election time? Don’t hold your breath to see if they care, folks.

But, on the other hand, if the "Concerned Moralists For A Theocratic America" came to your elected official’s office and told them they can guarantee a certain percentage of active voters at the ballot box to whomever would support their agenda, you can bet your last dollar that these politicians would be listening attentively to what this group would have to say. They may not like what the "Concerned Moralists" advocate, but they know that that group will be at the ballot box on election day, and if they want to get the win, they have to make sure that voting segment votes for them.

Case in point is Steve Forbes. The son of billionaire Malcom Forbes and publisher of "Forbes" magazine ran for president in 1996 on a simple flat tax platform. It was a simple, easy to understand tax system that would appeal to every American who felt they were paying too much in taxes. And yet, he only won in two primaries.

Why, you ask? Because that was the only issue he ran on! He didn’t want to talk about the Christian Coalition, or the other moralist groups who wanted their social agendas legislated. Pat Buchanan would talk himself to death on morality and social issues. Bob Dole would go on and on about family values and protecting children at the expense of everything America stands for. They got the votes, Forbes did not.

So now it is time for the 2000 election season to start, and when Forbes announced his intentions, he made it a point to talk about social issues and throwing in the flat tax on top of it. And it should be no surprise that Forbes made those issues mirror the most conservative of groups. He knows that the moralists will show up at the ballot box because they still have an agenda to see legislated.

What about the rest of the voters? Well, a good bulk of voters just plain don’t vote! And why should they? After all, they look at the candidates and see just how extreme their positions are and they decide it’s really not worth the effort. Five to eight candidates all talking the same, trying to appeal to the same core group of moralists, using the same buzzwords, and flinging mud at each other. Who wouldn’t be disinterested by it all?

The special interest groups live for the non-vote. They count on the general public staying home and not voting at the primaries. If anything, they know there is truth in the old political saying that "If you don’t vote, my vote counts twice!"

And in many ways, it is that general apathy towards the primaries that keeps the candidates constantly leaning towards the polar extremes. For the past three presidential campaigns, Pat Buchannan was considered to be the most extreme of conservatives. But with the 2000 elections coming, he’ll have to share that category with Forbes, with theocrats like Gary Bauer, and with Mister Blunder himself, former Vice President Dan Quayle. If voter apathy continues, one can only wonder how far to the extremes the candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties will go in the early 21st century.

But the shift towards political extremism by these two behemoth parties is also an asset to the smaller political parties. The further to extremes the candidates will go, those who used to support them will become disinterested and look for other parties that reflect their own beliefs. Every candidate that supports the theocratic Christian Coalition means another group of moderate Americans will start looking at political groups like the Libertarian Party and Ross Perot’s Reform Party. One only has to look at how a former actor and wrestler by the name of Jesse Ventura managed to beat out two established political parties to become governor of the state of Minnesota for proof.

However, the key to breaking the candidates’ downward spiral towards extremism lies not in voter apathy, but in more voter participation not just in the major elections, but also in the primaries. Don’t buy into the zero-sum mentality that says that if you don’t vote for the most popular candidate you shouldn’t even bother voting. Don’t get turned off when all the candidates start talking like fundamentalist ministers on a crusade, get pissed off and vow that you will go to the voting booth just to make sure these con artists don’t get any further to positions of political power! That is the only way that we can have a political body that is more representative of its citizens, instead of a body politic that whores itself out to the select few who have their own agenda.

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