A couple of weeks ago I drove up to New Hampshire in the thick of its presidential primary. I traveled there to volunteer for the “We The People” convention – focused on throwing a spotlight on the role of money in our political system – and to generally take in the this special moment in our democratic process.
As I reflect on my time on the ground, a few thoughts come to mind:
- Presidential primaries are fun. They’re literally a roving popularity contest. It’s this intoxicating blend of media, celebrity, status (who gets access to what event), and regional culture. It was hard not to get caught up in the hoopla.
- The butterfly effect exists. Thinking to America’s impact on the world, it was surreal to think of how a gaffe by a candidate during an event at a local diner could impact the trajectory of their campaign – and in turn the outcome of the presidential election – and in turn the fate of so many people impacted one way or the other by our actions as a country.
- New Hampshire takes its role seriously. I assumed that folks in New Hampshire would be turned off by the primary circus rolling in to town — the bus-loads of out-of-staters and political tourists such as myself, incessant political advertisements. I’m sure there are those feel that way, and at least one local I spoke to seemed to welcome it: enjoying the access to the candidates, checking out the media set-ups. Between all of the hotel rentals and media buys, I bet it makes for a nice local stimulus package too.
- Systemic bias at play? With all of our talk these days of systemic bias, I couldn’t help but wonder: how different would our presidential election look if the first primaries were in other states such as, say, Mississippi or California? Ted Cruz stumping in LA. Bernie Sanders at a high school football stadium in Dallas. Does the socio-economic makeup of Iowa and New Hampshire have an undue influence over who we elect to represent us? What would a more representative system look like?
On the topic of “money in politics”:
- It’s curious why the role of special interests – and their financial influence – is bigger now than years past. Voters have rated “money in politics” as an important issue for some time. We’ve experienced a disconnect between what we want – and what our politicians legislate – for years. Why now? Maybe our weak economy has voters grasping for something to fix – and this seems like an obvious target. Maybe the Citizens United ruling was the tipping point. I heard one person explain how this is the first presidential election where Citizens United has been on the books for some time, and the population at large knows about it.
- It’s neat to see the various organizations who are playing a role in helping our democracy be more responsive to the will of the people. Including starting at the state-level, holding candidates accountable by winning one fight at at time. It reminds me of other slow-burn efforts to effect change, from LGBT rights to marijuana legalization.
For the first time since (maybe) grade school, while on this trip I skimmed through the US constitution. What a neat and thoughtful set of rules for governing ourselves. As I think about this presidential election, and the focus on the role of moneyed interest groups in particular, I wonder where this (sometimes very angry) debate ultimately will lead.
I’m hopeful in the direction of a thoughtful process that results in every American having a stronger voice, irrespective of social status or party affiliation. That this debate is merely part of a long American tradition — from abolition to women’s suffrage – of taking back the spirit of the constitution and advocating for changes in the pursuit of “a more perfect union.”
And I also remember that systems are hard to change for a reason. I remember what happened in Tunisia, when that system didn’t bend to the will of an increasingly frustrated people, and ultimately collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Here’s to our better angels succeeding. And the playing out of a process that leaves us better for it.