When Al Gore gave his victory speech last Tuesday as the votingwrapped up in the 12 states he won, he proclaimed with a wide, widegrin, "Now we know why they call it Super Tuesday!"
Super Tuesday, indeed. Before we get all puffed up and over energizedlike the Vice President did, we might want to ask what exactly was"super" about it? The Democratic Party produced its lowest primaryturnout in 40 years -- the one exception being 1996 when Bill Clintonran unopposed for his party's nomination. (That was the year hecollected $13 million in taxpayer money to run a primary campaignagainst no one.) Last Tuesday, the energized Democrats -- to the extentthere were any -- voted in the crossover Republican primaries for JohnMcCain. All told, it doesn't sound like a Super Tuesday for your averageDemocratic voter.
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It wasn't much of a Super Tuesday for your average Republican voter,either. While John McCain's anti-establishment, anti-special interestcrusade produced the highest turnout in a Republican Party primary since1964, his 5 million-vote insurgency was crushed by the party machine in13 out of 21 states. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was supplantedby a ruthless mobilization of core Republican voters, executed largelyby the 29 Republican governors who backed Bush and used the states'political machinery to get out the vote.
In New York, Governor George Pataki attempted to keep McCain andother challengers off the ballot altogether. But when public outcry andan indignant federal court judge threatened to overturn him, Patakiwithdrew. Nonetheless, while McCain carried parts of New York City, Bushoutpolled McCain handily upstate, and 10 percent of Bush voters queriedin exit polls said that the Pataki endorsement made the difference intheir choice. New York was also one of the states where Republicanturnout was down from previous years. No wonder there are whispers aboutputting Pataki on the Bush ticket -- he knows how to mobilize loyalistsfrom a shrinking electorate.
If anything, Super Tuesday was more stupid than super, replete withstupid victory speeches and stupid commentary by the media.
"It looks like it's going to be Gore vs. Bush in November," excitedlyconcluded numerous journalistic commentators as I surfed the news-talkchannels. Now that's a daring conclusion! You had two closely managedscions of the political elite class running with the total and hugelyfunded support of their respective party machines -- one of whichreached all the way to the White House and the other into 29 statehouses-- and the fact that they locked up their party's nominations beforehalf the country voted is considered news!
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And what of John McCain? He, in effect, provided a cover for themedia and power moguls to create the illusion that there was ahard-fought battle for the nomination. He and the pro-reformindependents made it possible to say there was a contest, that thecandidates engaged one another fiercely, that the voters had to choose.And they did! Whom did they choose? They chose the candidates of thestatus quo. Oh well, I guess we're now supposed to think everyone ishappy with the status quo and that, in the final analysis, our democracyworks.
This illusion of consensus is one of the remaining myths of Americandemocracy. Many pernicious political myths have been exploded in recentyears, like the notion that we feel we can place our trust ingovernment. Or that politicians stand for something other than gettingreelected. Harvard University's Shorenstein Center conducted a poll justbefore "Stupid Tuesday" which showed that 87 percent of respondentsbelieve, "Most politicians are pretty much willing to say whatever ittakes in order to get themselves elected." Of course, Harvard has toconduct a poll to figure this out. Most Americans could tell you that ishow most Americans feel without conducting a poll.
Still, the myth that the county has the mechanisms and the commitmentto build popular consensus for leadership and policy persists. Itpersists in spite of the fact that well over half the country doesn'tvote in national elections and that the major party nominees are chosenin a truncated primary process where a fraction of the electorate votesand money and the power of the incumbent machines, not averageAmericans, determine the winners.
When people feel that the status quo has become unassailable, itmakes for large-scale disenchantment and non-participation. That's why,from the Bush/Gore point of view, last Tuesday was so darn super. Butfor the average American, it was just plain stupid.