Monday, January 02, 2012

Presidential race starting in January?! Blame Pennsylvania

It is bewildering that the year just began, yet the Iowa Caucus process is just hours away.  I also know caucuses are not primaries as we know them here in Pennsylvania.  Still, the fact that the presidential campaign is officially beginning is amazing.  It is also amazing to folks around the world who do these things very differently. National elections leading to the election of potentates can be announced  with barely weeks notice. The American Primary system is in lots of ways an example of American exceptionalism.  Few places have year-long election campaigns, actually now more than a full year for us with the new date for the Iowa Caucuses.

It turns out that Pennsylvania, and our Western PA neighbor Crawford County is to blame for this whole primary system juggernaut now upon us.  If you read this before you can skip it, but below has been my primary season post in the past with the summary of how Pennsylvania history now impacts the nation, if not the world.  Just consider, a century ago, the whole primary idea was still considered an experiment.  Maybe democracy is a perpetual experiment.

For more you can read Western Pennsylvania History: The Origin of the Direct Primary: The Crawford County System. Volume 60, Number 2 (April 1977) , 145--158


Which then makes you wonder why do we have primaries at all? Plenty of modern democracies do not hold primaries.. Not even all states in the US have primaries. The caucus system is still in use in Iowa as we will all re-learn a year from now. Can you imagine a caucus system in place here? It turns out that the direct primary system got its start just outside of Pittsburgh. Crawford County, Pennsylvania created the direct primary in 1842. The local Democratic Party had a chaotic and ultimately failed county convention that year whereupon no slate of candidates was nominated. In the machinations that followed, they ultimately dealt with the situation by allowing all Democrats to cast equal votes for who would represent the party in elections that fall. Seems like a normal enough idea now, but it had never been tried that way before. The idea was so well liked that it transformed from a provisional measure to the permanent method of selecting party nominees. While the idea spread throughout the state and nation, it was not an overnight change. Pennsylvania would not have a comprehensive law requiring primaries until 1913.


Anonymous The Wiz said...

Personally, the title should read "Credit Pa" since the primary system puts the selection of candidates in the hands of the people instead of the politicians handing picking their cronies.Old style caucuses are are too easily run by political machines.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 11:01:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home