The Importance of Primaries

As political tribalism grew stronger over the past decades, general elections became less and less about ideas and visions and more and more about turning out your base and fighting over the tiny 10% sliver of non-affiliated electorate. Nothing has really been revealed, learned or discovered during recent general elections, except – of course – who wins.

For the three years following general elections, we tend to have a long echo of the general election, as the losing tribe deploys its Congresspersons, cable channels and newspapers to discredit the winning candidate while the winning tribe plays defense for him. This has made the period of governing resemble a continuing general election, making governing have all the bad things that come with it, such as divisiveness, grandstanding, and never-ending fundraising emails.

Fortunately, there remained one sliver of vibrant electoral democracy left in the process: The Primary. Primaries are the only part of the process where you had to take off your tribal war armor (because it was all internal to your own political tribe) and actually think about what you believed in. You would have more than two choices. You would hear multiple – sometimes dozens – of debates. You would get into the details of different policy plans. You would have a variety of viewpoints pose questions to a variety of other viewpoints. You would have Kuciniches and Deans and Obamas shake up more mainstream candidates. The tribal media would have to turn off its broken record of tribal chest thumping to actually compare and contrast real people. This is the benefit of the Primary process.

Unfortunately, we are on the brink of losing this last sliver of vibrant electoral democracy. The media has become so utterly tribal, that they can’t even imagine a Democratic primary. They have spent 7 years slamming the other side and defending their own that they can’t even bear to return to a short, one-year period where there’s no dog in the fight and they have to turn off the drumbeat and moderate a discussion between various candidates about the direction of the Party. They’d much rather just have seamless tribalism from this administration to the next.

So, a governor and big city mayor (O’Malley) is silenced. A mayor, Congressman and Senator (Sanders) is silenced. A Senator and Assistant Secretary of the Navy with three Purple Hearts (Webb) is silenced. They simply “aren’t serious” enough to face off against the very serious candidate who voted for the Iraq War (death toll: 500,000+; 21 Senators wisely voted against), was the last Democrat to endorse raising the minimum wage (suffering: 30 million works making less today, adjusted for inflation, than every worker made in 1968; all major Democrats endorsed before her), campaigned to expand the Drug War and mass incarceration (2.2 million Americans now locked in cages; 1994 Clinton ramp up of mass incarceration and Drug War opposed by Congressional Black Caucus members while Hillary said “we need more prisons”), turned her back on ordinary people facing bankruptcy when in the Senate despite Elizabeth Warren ensuring that she knew better (as explained by Warren in a 2004 interview), and took to the floor of Congress to oppose gay marriage in 2004 (she said there is a “fundamental, bedrock principle that marriage is between a man and a woman going back into the mists of history”; John Lewis meanwhile said *8 years prior* that Congresspersons must lead on this issue despite its unpopularity, that “we cannot tell people that they cannot fall in love”).

Let’s not let the one last sliver of vigorous electoral democracy — The Primary, the only place left in American electoral politics where we might (just might!) discuss visions for the future of our party and our country — be taken from us. Democrats: Reject the coronation! Let O’Malley, Webb and Sanders debate.

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