The Washington Derby

By Phil Carmichael
web posted December 20, 1999

The Washington Derby is upon us. That horse race, otherwise known as the Presidential election, whose participants are vying to become the next inhabitants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What makes this race more interesting than say the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes, is the method by which the winner is chosen. It is neither who runs the fastest nor who can run the farthest, but the spectators choose the winner.

The first and foremost of our inalienable rights is the right of self-determination. We can choose to live in a republic, as we did in 1789, or we can choose to live under a monarchy, dictatorship, theocracy or any other form of government. We can even change our minds at any given point. A re-writing of the Constitution or an altogether abolishment can give us a king, dictator, tyrant or theocrat if we want. It is this practice of self-determination that is the ultimate form of democracy.

The race for the Presidency is the most democratic of races. In many ways it defines our democracy. We the people decide who will lead us, we the people decide in what direction we will be led and we the people decide when we want someone else to lead us in another direction. In the end, we the people are sovereign. All governments must answer to the people as the final arbiter of their legitimacy. Absolute monarchs, dictators and tyrants have all felt the wrath of an inconsolable public. It is among our greatest achievements as a nation that we have been able to accomplish a peaceful transfer of power every four years for the last two centuries.

Lately I have become concerned over a practice that seems to undermine this process. It is the pre-primary primary to garner the praise and adulation of the media who seem to relish in perceiving themselves as king-makers and king-breakers. Before the race begins, even before warm ups when we begin to talk about who might enter the race, out from the dark recesses come scurrying the pundits, talking heads and neo-journalists to spout off on whatever happens to be the message du jour. Less and less do they discuss the merits of each entrant or the issues on which they choose to run. More interesting to them is who is leading, who is faltering, who chose not to race, whose strategy is working and whose isn't.

Before a single vote is cast, those who consider themselves the anointed have told us who the contenders are and who are the pretenders. In their infinite wisdom they decide that several of the candidates are not worth considering. They cite polls as evidence that someone is "unelectable." Don't waste your vote on one of these guys they try to tell us. If these polls are so accurate why do we even have elections? Why only weed out a few candidates when we can take care of the whole thing in one shot? For the obvious reason that things can change in even a short period of time. If even the polls can change, as we have seen them do frequently, how can you cite them, a dynamic entity, as evidence of an outcome, an absolute? These polls have a habit of becoming self-fulfilling. Low poll numbers prevent a candidate from raising a significant amount of money. In a national election it is very difficult to get your message out and get to know the public without a significant amount of money. If you can't get your message out and get to know the people its very hard to move up in the polls and raise more money, thus the cycle continues.

Jeff Greenfield's tirade on CNN following the Arizona Republican debate disgusted me. His voice dripped with contempt as he had the gall to suggest that those "other" candidates didn't belong on the same stage as George W. Bush and John McCain. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I couldn't believe the arrogance of this man. Who is he to decide who should and shouldn't be allowed to run for President. The media continually cites low poll numbers as an excuse to deny a candidate exposure. It is precisely this exposure the candidates need to move up in the polls. They are, in essence, running them out of the race.

It is up to us as individuals to educate ourselves on the issues that we deem important. We cannot rely on the media any longer to enlighten us. It is not possible to be fully informed by solely watching the evening news. This is not evidence of any left wing conspiracy, despite the validity of that theory. There just is not enough time in a one-hour newscast to cover a subject in an ample fashion. It is unfortunate, and because of this we have degenerated into a government by sound bite.

Joe Sobran who is the running mate of Howard Phillips, the Presidential candidate of the Constitution Party (formerly the Taxpayers Party), had it exactly right when he talked of his qualifications to be Vice-President. He said "So far I have found three: I am a natural-born citizen of the United States, I'm over 35 years old, and I've lived in the United States for more than 14 years." Everything else is up to the individual voter. The essence of self-determination is trusting your fellow citizen to make the best choice. We all have the free will to vote for whomever we wish for whatever reason we wish. If you want to vote for the person with the best hair and best eyes, you have that right.

We regularly hear conservative candidates campaign to "give government back to the people." Hogwash, It is up to us to take it back. It's ours to begin with and giving credence to the absurd notion that they can give it back will only serve to cement the idea that the people exist to serve the government vice the government serving the people. A presidential candidate trying to claim the legacy of a former President will do nothing for the public. Only when all Americans stand up and claim the legacy left by great men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry will we guarantee that the ideals of liberty and freedom exist in America for all time.

Phil Carmichael is the web master of My Soapbox and a contributor to Enter Stage Right

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