A DANGER OF DEMOCRACY: The Presidential Nominating Process by Terry Sanford

A DANGER OF DEMOCRACY: The Presidential Nominating Process

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Like a number of liberals, former North Carolina governor and Duke University president Sanford thinks that democracy has been ill served by the reforms introduced into the presidential nominating system since the Democrats overreacted to their tumultous 1968 convention. Sanford thinks that the proliferation of primaries, the increase in the number of delegates to nominating conventions, and the tying of delegates to particular candidates have turned the conventions into boring rituals with predictable, and not necessarily desirable, outcomes. Jumping around American history, he argues that the old boss system wasn't that bad: the bosses had a constituency; they sought candidates with the strongest good points and least-damaging weaknesses; and they had the opportunity, at the conventions, to assess the candidates individually and come up with the best choice. Even after the demise of the classic bosses, Sanford thinks the watered-down versions were all right, too; he points to Stevenson's nomination over Kefauver--a candidate who materialized only at the convention over one who went into the primaries--as an instance of the bosses' picking a potentially great president over a potentially good one. Primaries, he argues, are media circuses; they determine the final candidates too soon for everyone to get a good look at them; they fragment the political process; etc. Instead, he proposes preferential primaries only--the selection of single delegates from small districts who are free to vote their consciences at the conventions--and the early election of delegates so that they will have time to become educated. He also advocates the imposition of rules governing delegate selection by the national parties, and a restricted timespan during which the preferential primaries would be held. This system will allegedly result in stronger parties and better candidates, while the Gene McCarthys of the world will still have a chance to catch everyone's attention in the preferential primaries (though they won't have much chance of being nominated. But this is all tinkering that camouflages a deep distrust of people's judgment--a preference for representation over participation that has a long tradition. Sanford's reforms won't make political life at the grassroots any more meaningful; just the opposite. An important display of symptoms, but a dubious diagnosis.

Pub Date: July 3rd, 1981
Publisher: Westview