The Carter presidency set people to looking at the Democratic Party's nominating process, and this past summer the Party...



The Carter presidency set people to looking at the Democratic Party's nominating process, and this past summer the Party rolled back its rules. Berkeley political scientist Polsby's study, completed earlier, provides a fine academic justification. The woes of presidential politics, Polsby argues, have two sources: 1) the 1968 election, and particularly the Democratic nomination turmoil; 2) Watergate, and the ensuing reform of campaign financing. The Democrats are Polsby's chief concern, because it's they who are interested in reform and also they who, given the relative size of party registration, win or lose elections on their own. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey's nomination--after Robert Kennedy's assassination, and without campaigning in any primaries--was perceived as illegitimate. Polsby claims that, on the contrary, Humphrey had enough delegates to be the front-runner before the assassination. The ensuing fragmentation of the party cost Humphrey the election and spurred the Democrats to increase participation in the nominating process. The result, a heavy emphasis on primaries and committed delegates, enlarged the importance of early victories, magnified the role of the media, and favored organized interest groups. Thus: the nomination of George McGeeem, who any old-time politician knew was not electable; and the election of Jimmy Carter, who had the support of neither the Washington Democratic elite nor traditional Democratic constituency groups (like organized labor), Consequently, he could not govern; and the fact that he ignored both groups in picking his cabinet illustrates his isolation. More deliberation, Polsby believes, would result in consensus candidates who also have the experience and capacity to govern. (Primaries, because they produce single winners, don't register overall second choices; and the media-image element helps to nominate unprepared candidates like Carter and Reagan.) Also, campaign financing laws, along with the costly primaries, have caused difficulties for less-than-rich candidates; so Polsby advises increased amounts of public funding as well as a reduced primaries role. All this has been in the wind for a while now, and some measures--a shorter primary schedule, reserved seats for party pros--have been adopted. Polsby recognizes that tinkering with the rules may not thoroughly democratize the process, but he thinks that the new rules exacerbated the voter alienation they were meant to alleviate. His short volume makes the most coherent case for this line of thinking yet.

Pub Date: March 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982