WOULD IT HELP IF WE HAD JUNGLE PRIMARIES?
I know there are a lot of reasons to be wary of California-style "jungle primaries," in which parties don't pick nominees and all candidates for office run against one another, with the top two vote-getters going on to the general election, regardless of party -- you'll rarely see minor-party candidates on a general election ballot; the candidates who emerge might be just as unrepresentative as those emerging from the traditional process; and so on.
But if we eliminated party primaries in our presidential election campaigns, and just had one big nationwide, non-partisan primary campaign to pick two general election candidates, maybe one entire party's set of candidates wouldn't feel compelled to respond to Martin Luther King Day like this:
On a day set aside to honor civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitt Romney plans to tout his extreme immigration positions during a campaign stop in South Carolina today -- with Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona's and Alabama's immigration laws, at his side....
Kobach even once wrote a book opposing the anti-Apartheid boycott of South Africa....
In fact, Mr. Gingrich won some of his loudest and most sustained applause when the liberal Fox News analyst Juan Williams pressed him on his call for schoolchildren to work as janitors, for his description of Mr. Obama as a "food stamp president" and remarks that Mr. Williams said, to loud boos, seemed "intended to belittle the poor."
At one point rolling his eyes, cocking his head to the side and saying with mock impatience, "Well, first of all, Juan," Mr. Gingrich seemed to revel in using Mr. Williams as a foil.
"The fact is more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history," Mr. Gingrich said, a claim that is numerically true but ignored the depth of the recession that Mr. Obama inherited when he took office. "I know that among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable."
In a debate that fell on Martin Luther King's Birthday, the Republicans also found themselves arguing about whether convicted felons should be able to regain the right to vote when they have completed their prison sentences and parole. The issue has long been of concern to black leaders, given the disproportionate number of African-American men who serve prison terms.
Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said he thought they should regain voting rights under those conditions, defending a position he had taken in the Senate. Mr. Romney, after considerable pushing by Mr. Santorum, said he thought that violent felons should never regain the right to vote.
At that moment, Mr. Santorum -- who appeared to have anticipated what Mr. Romney was going to say -- responded by asking why as governor of Massachusetts he never did anything to deal with a state law that permitted felons to vote even while they were on parole.
What if Barack Obama had to compete for a spot in the non-partisan primary? What if he had to be at the debates? In other words, what if everyone and not just Republicans had reason to watch these debates? Would the candidates try so hard to appeal to the basest instincts of white voters?
I know Obama would be all but assured of winning one slot, and the competition would be for the other slot, and thus for Republican voters. But I'm not sure the press would believe that -- just to keep it interesting, they'd speculate about whether Obama could lose to both Ron Paul and another Republican, or Huntsman and another Republican, the way they're still speculating about a challenger stopping or slowing Romney.
I don't want to be some dewy-eyed naif believing that some change in our system -- especially one that will never actually happen -- could instantly sprinkle Magic Comity Dust all over American politics. But even with my low expectations of the GOP, I find that its meanness and contempt grind me down. Even I find myself capable of entertaining unrealistic fantasies of a way out.
America isn't as racist as this sliver of America seems to be. America isn't as mean-spirited and hate-filled in general. What if Republican candidates had to aim their campaign at America from Day One? Would it make any difference? Or am I just succumbing to sentiment?