Sitting in London and watching the New Hampshire primary is a strange experience. The ‘Republicrats’ have a disgraceful advantage built into the US election process with different laws applying to their candidates than for those of other parties.
For British readers it is as though the Liberal Democrats had to get up to three or four million signatures on a petition to be allowed to appear on the ballot paper, as opposed to the £150 fee and a copy of the party’s constitution to the Electoral Commission and 6,590 voters to sign nomination papers for the whole country.
The good bit about primaries, which have no equivalent in the UK, is that the remote suited class gets a sustained exposure to public opinion, before the voters have to choose which licensed thief to put in charge. In Britain, all the Democrat nominees would be elected to Parliament, however extreme or daft their ideas, because of the way that candidates are appointed. Those that failed to win an election would stand a good chance of being appointed to the House of Lords for life or made the director of some welfare agency. Apart from the actual hopping from state to state (surely places like Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Idaho must be absolute hell to go out on hustings at this time of the year!) the other complexity for British observers is the campaign money.
In the UK, no declared candidate may spend more than a very small sum of money for his campaign. We are talking about a few thousand pounds for a candidate to the House of Commons. Because our legislation has only just got round to realising that political parties exist, these can spend what they like, provided they don’t plug the names of individual candidates. So a £20 million poster advertising campaign saying Vote Liberal would be fine, but a £50 thousand pound leaflet campaign in Sedgefield to promote Tony Blair could get the result overturned and the candidate barred from contesting elections for up to seven years. Oh and apart from oddball experiments, we all mark a box with a cross, and the candidates are listed in named alphabetical order. No ‘hanging chads’.
As I understand it, US candidates can either take taxpayers’ money to promote their campaign (no way as yet in the UK, free rationed TV broadcast aside), or they can refuse and spend as much as their supporters can afford. The current leader in the race for the Democratic nomination, Senator John Kerry, has apparently mortgaged his house and refused taxpayers’ money. This apparently noble gesture means that if he gets donors as a result of his good results so far, he can choose in which states and how the money will be spent.
Having read up on the Democrat candidates about issues that would affect someone outside the US, my current guess is that Senator John Edwards is the least objectionable on tax and foreign trade grounds (I would probably take the majority US view and abstain, in case anyone thinks I have gone soft on socialism). Senator Edwards has apparently opposed the steel tariffs brought in by President Bush and ‘only’ wants to scrap some of Mr Bush’s tax cutting proposals. As far as I can tell, all the other candidates would scrap all tax cuts and introduce the National Health Service to the ruin of US healthcare and as a threat to future medical progress.
I gather Senator Edwards made his money as a litigation lawyer, so I guess there’s plenty to deplore there. Would he do more harm in the White House than in the courtroom?