Civic Disengagement in Our Democracy
The deliberations of the conference and initial ideas for reform are articulated in this report that we proudly introduce for public consumption. The report is particularly pertinent in an election cycle where a frontloaded process has placed a premium on victories in early contests, effectively sealing the fate of all but four candidates by the end of January (Clinton, McCain, Obama and Romney). The quasi-national primary scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 5, shifts the contests in both parties to made-for-television dramas, as the retail politicking of the past is relegated to the dustbin. A study released yesterday by the University of Wisconsin shows the role that televised advertising has already played in the campaign. It comes as no surprise that the top four contenders are also the top spenders, with Clinton and Obama near parity, but Romney outspending all of his rivals combined.
The report also addresses some of the challenges of administering elections in light of the pockmarks of 2000 and 2004 in Florida and Ohio, respectively. In 2008 we have already learned of similar problems in South Carolina and Florida, with other states scrambling to find a way of securing paper backups for electronic voting machines.
Our emphasis on televised campaign coverage is also timely in light of the Hollywood writer's strike and the public's fascination with a high-stakes reality contest called the presidential campaign. Cable news ratings have gone through the roof as CNN, Fox, and CNBC present around-the-clock coverage on the ground as the campaign traverses the nation. The media's role as kingmaker is certainly worthy of intense scrutiny, and their power is particularly magnified during this compressed nomination calendar.
It goes without saying that in order to forestall general apathy amongst our citizenry the entire process must be examined and reformed in bi-partisan fashion. In a letter I wrote published in USA Today two weeks ago (Jan.17, 2008), I argued that both parties should consider the adoption of the so-called Delaware Plan, with later primaries spread across several months, and the smallest states in terms of population kicking off the process, following by successive blocs of progressively larger states. We are hopeful that this suggestion and others are carried into fruition as a result of the conference we convened, this soon-to-be widely disseminated report and the action that both inspire.