The number of contenders for the presidential nomination of the two major parties continues to grow in advance of what promises to be the most open presidential election in memory. This planting inaugurates a new orchard block on VOTES >> USA >> ’08, and also will grow in the AMERICAN POLITICAL REFORM >> PR-USA block.
One of the many unusual features of the American political system is the far greater diversity of views represented in contests for the presidency (both the big-party nominations and the occasional notable third-party or independent candidate in the general) than for the national or state legislative races.
Henry Droop, one of my “trinity” of great Anglo-American philosophers of political institutions, noted that the two-party system produces
an assembly in which the particular differences of opinion upon which the division into two parties is founded, are represented to an exaggerated degree, while subordinate divisions of parties and the various opinions existing upon other questions are only represented by the chance opinions of individual members, and not by members authorised to speak upon these points in the name of their constituents.
Today’s formal entrant is Tom Tancredo, a Republican House member from Colorado who is best known for his xenophobic position on immigration. Of course, as Steven Taylor commented, “he wonâ€™t win the nomination, let alone the presidency.”
Ron Paul, another potential Republican candidate, likewise has no chance.
Nor does Dennnis Kucinich have any chance to win the Democratic nomination that he recently announced he was seeking, let alone the presidency.
Nonetheless, I welcome all of these men (and, why, so far, only one woman?) to the debate, and I hope more candidates with beyond-the-mainstream ideas will enter the fray.
It quite striking that two of these beyond-the-mainstream candidates are Republican–and we could add a third in Duncan Hunter (catering to a similar constituency as Tancredo) and a fourth in Sam Brownback (catering to a Christian “ultra” base), while only one of the national legislators likely to run for the Democratic nomination (see list below) is a politician who could meaningfully be characterized as beyond the (very narrow) mainstream of the US partisan duopoly.
Is the Republican congressional caucus really so much more diverse than the Democratic? That would be ironic and surprising, given the level of cohesion and ideological policy-making behavior maintained by the Republicans over the last six years.3
Yet, there it is in the announced field of presidential contenders from within Congress: Paul (Republican, but formerly a Libertarian), Tancredo (who should be in the American Independent or the misnamed Constitutionalist Party1), and Brownback (who could be in something like a Christian Heritage party2). Yet all of these men operate under the label of a major (and allegedly mainstream) “conservative” party. On the Democratic side, only Kucinich (perhaps really a Green) is out of place in the mainstream centrist party that candidates like Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Kerry all seek to lead.
It’s a shame of our system that the only way voters who share the beyond-the-mainstream ideas of Kucinich, Paul, Tancredo, and Brownback can vote for a like-minded candidate is in presidential primaries and not in legislative elections, where such voters could actually be represented.
And, even with regard to presidential nominating races, voters can cast a (semi-meaningful) vote for one of these candidates only if by quirk of geography and calendar they happen to live in a state that votes early, before the field is winnowed to the moneyed few who reflect “the particular differences of opinion upon which the division into two parties is founded.”
As for legislative races, voters with views represented by one of these politicians are themselves represented only if they happen to live in (safe) districts where “the chance opinions of individual members” are in line with their own.
If only there were a system that would mimic the presidential nomination contest in being about the voters’ preferred policy direction for the country, yet resulted in their ability to elect “members authorised to speak upon these points in the name of their constituents.”
Of course, there are such systems–they are called proportional representation!
The LA Times published this list of likely presidential candidates who were members of congress in 2002 and how they voted on authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.)…YES
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.)…YES
Sen. Christopher J.. Dodd (Conn.)…YES
Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.)…YES
Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.)…YES
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio)…NO
Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.)…YES
Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.)…YES
Rep. Duncan Hunter (El Cajon)…YES
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)…YES
Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)…YES*
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.)…YES
Given the importance of this issue as an indicator of the character and judgment of a potential president, there is only one on this list who is even in the running for the much coveted Ladera Frutal endorsement.
* In the comments below, a Ron Paul supporter says that the Times was wrong about Paul’s vote.
1. Tancredo co-authored a book, Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders, with Jim Gilchrist.
2. The name of a similar small party in Canada and formerly in New Zealand (where an allied, but much more moderate, Christian party merged into the rather socially conservative United Future); notwithstanding that some of this ideological persuasion was incorporated over the last six or more years into the Republican orthodoxy; that does not make it “mainstream.”
3. But, wow, how that has broken this past week!!