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Primary colours

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?

11 comments to Primary colours

  • John Thacker

    The steel tariffs, actually, are already gone, after the WTO warning. There are other tariffs, many of long standing, though. Edwards is fairly pro-textile tariffs, being from North Carolina.

  • BigFire

    Don’t cry for John Kerry. He trade up by divorcing his first wife for his current wife (Teresa Heinz Kerry) whose first husband, heir to the Heinz Ketchup fortune and a US Senator died in a plane crash. Kerry is not legally able to spend his wife’s fortune, so he’s opting to spend his own. Should he go bankrupt personally, he won’t be sleeping on the street.

  • Andy Danger

    Edwards did make his fortune as a trial lawyer, but he’s no ambulance-chaser. He’s actually turned away clients because he didn’t think their injuries were severe enough to merit a lawsuit. As lawyers go, he’s that rare bird: one with some integrity.

  • HTY

    Your understanding of the US electoral system is rather flawed. Requirements for appearance on ballot are the same for all parties, major or minor. The 2 parties have conspired to make sure that the requirements are astonishingly high in most places to deliberately handicap minor parties, since they lack the infrastructure and money of the major parties. However, the Libertarian Party and (less liked by denizens of this blog) the Green Party can usually fulfill the requirements. So did Ross Perot’s Reform Party.

    Let’s face it, when you have absurdly low requirements, you get a situation like the California recall when you have 135 candidates including Larry Flint.

    I’ll pass.

    Finally, Howard Dean has also dispensed with public financing.

    I do have a question for the Britons here: Is it true that the UK Conservative Party is introducing some sort of primaries for their MP selection process?

  • Simon Jester

    “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.”

    Is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking?

  • HTY isn’t exactly right. Ballot access standards vary greatly from state to state. Here in Colorado minor parties enjoy easier ballot access, but some states require tens of thousands of signatures per candidate. Running a full slate in a single state might require millions of signatures. The two big parties have no such requirements, and there’s no realistic way for small parties to achieve ‘major party’ status.

  • John P

    I am sorry, but the words “John Edwards” and “integrity” are impossible to use in the same sentence. The guy has a record of pushing the most extreme lawsuits, and as a presidential candidate he reminds me more of an snakeoil salesman.

    When it comes to trade, he is running on a protectionist platform. He would be an awful president, as most of the other Democratic field this year.

  • Your take on John Edwards record and current position on free trade is wrong. John Kerry actually has a better free-trade record than he does. See the Issues 2000 website for detailed information about both candidates’ positions.

  • Jenn

    Actually, Lieberman is the most moderate. His reworking of the tax cut would be the least disruptive and damaging (though still not fair to high income earners) of the current proposals. Also, his budget proposal is the lowest of any of the Democratic candidates (Sharpton’s is the highest, I believe). In addition, he has a much more sensible approach than his colleagues to foreign affairs. Lieberman also strikes me as the one who would be most willing to work with Congress and make compromises. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.

    For several years now, Edwards has been moving farther and farther from the center. His voting record is closer to Ted Kennedy’s than it is to that of a Southern Democrat. Like all of the other candidates, Edwards has a universal-ish healthcare scheme. This past summer he unveiled a plan that he says will “provide health coverage for uninsured U.S. residents” (notice he doesn’t say “citizens”). Granted, his program is not severe and all-encompassing, but it does have a disturbing provision that would allow the federal government to fine parents who did not offer the coverage for their children.

  • John P

    JOHN EDWARDS: I didn’t vote for NAFTA. I campaigned against NAFTA. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement, against the Caribbean trade agreement, against the Singapore trade agreement, against final passage of fast track for this president.

    (Source: Democratic 2004 Presidential Primary Debate in Iowa Jan 4, 2004)

    – John Edwards is a RABID protectionist, and would be a horrible president.

  • Edwards got about $60M as his cut in a tobacco suit, one of those class-action deals where the plaintiffs get a gift certificate for another carton of fags, and the lawyer gets 30% of the settlement, in cash, up front. He used the money to run for the Senate, essentially buying the seat, and now he thinks he can buy the presidency.
    It was remarked that “Whoever is advising the Democrats on gun control, should be taken out and shot.” Frankly, whoever is advising Bush on trade should be right behind him.
    I will step into the booth this November, and feel like I’ve been handed a pistol and told to shoot myself in the foot, but it’s my choice, which foot.
    The Libertarians should do quite well this time.