Saturday, February 26, 2005

Dionne on the Price-Herman Commission

In his column yesterday, E. J. Dionne wrote about the Democrats' Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling (a.k.a. Price-Herman Commission), which is set to begin its work soon. A few things in his piece are noteworthy.

First, he starts the column with the following truism - "When the going gets tough, Democrats form commissions." Indeed, as Philip Klinkner showed in his book The Losing Parties, Democrats do tend to react to electoral losses with procedural (i.e., rule) changes, while Republicans (reflecting their business-like party culture), tend to make organizational changes. But while the Price-Herman Commission appears to be a continuation of that pattern, I think the Democrat's most significant transformations in the near future will be organizational. That's what Dean's selection as chair was all about. (If this turns out to be true, it raises an interesting question - what changed in the Democrats' party culture to make organizational concerns paramount?)

Second, Dionne suggests that Democrats should do something that parties rarely do - reexamine their core beliefs. He proposes a Commission on Values, Ideas and Policies. It might be a good idea, but it isn't going to happen. In Klinkner's study, which looks at the years 1956 to 1993 - only once did a party undertake a policy response, as opposed to a procedural or organizational response, to a loss (the Democrats did so following the 1956 election; even in 1964, the Republicans' response was primarily organizational, though policy was addressed).

Finally, the purpose of the Price-Herman Commission is to examine the nomination calendar. The Commission should strongly consider endorsing either the "Regional Rotating Primary Plan" put forward by the National Association of Secretaries of State or the "Delaware Plan" created by the Republicans' Brock Commission in 1999-2000.

In the former, the nation would be divided into four regions; states in a given region would hold their primaries in the same month (as close to the first Tuesday as possible); and the order in which regions may hold their primaries would be rotated every four years. In 2008, the plan calls for the East to begin in March, followed by the South in April, the Midwest in May and the West in June. (Iowa and New Hampshire would keep their "first in the nation" status under the NASS plan but that, of course, isn't necessary.) The Delaware Plan is sometimes called the inverted pyramid plan because it divides states into four categories (or "pods") based on size and then begins the process with the smallest states and ends with the largest states.

There are a lot of problems with the current nomination process, including frontloading and the disproportionate influence of Iowa and New Hampshire. Choosing a nominee in what amounts to a snap judgment by voters in one or two small states isn't a very rational process. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the reform proposals currently under consideration, but virtually any of them would be an improvement over what we have now.


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