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Letting the Voters Decide

On the road again. Actually am at Terminal A at National, the old terminal with the 1950s Aerodynamic architecture, big windows on all sides, the place looking very retro-jazzy, like James Coburn's going to walk by any minute. Spies, secret agents, devil-may-care diplomats, well-dressed subversives.

[Am on the way to find Rudy in Florida, fyi. Now on the plane itself, at the gate, but I'll turn off the laptop momentarily because, although I enjoy the tremendous sense of power that comes from having a lot of electronic gear, I don't want the blog to wind up flying the plane.]

The recurring theme in NH post-mortems: We need to let the voters decide. Brokaw said it. Brian Williams said it. Here are Nancy Gibbs and David von Drehle saying it in Time Magazine, where the cover story says "It's the Voters, Stupid":

In a race that turns out to be all about climate change, just about every forecaster was wrong -- which in a way was the best part. People made their own weather, refusing to stay inside, ignoring the old rules, the hot air, the floods of cash. Voters in both contests turned out in record numbers to throw off the polling models, and the fact that no one knows what happens now is itself a cause to celebrate. Maybe the other 99% of citizens will get a chance to play their part too in the already merrily historic campaign of 2008. Political professionals, consultants, lobbyists, reporters and pundits leafed madly through the unread pages of this election saga, but the voters took the book away and closed it. No jumping ahead. The story won't be foretold. It will unfold.

I believe I've been saying for a year now that it's insane to have campaigning decoupled from voting. Haven't I? Or was that just what I muttered to my myself in the shower? Voting is clarifying and legitimating. Next time around we need to have a process in which there are meaningful votes at various milestones of the campaign, even if it means starting to select delegates in 2011 instead of 2012.

Last year I did that story for the Post magazine on presidential politics in New Hampshire, and fretted openly that, because of the Feb. 5 super-duper Tuesday, candidates would by-pass the small states, and thus the campaign wouldn't involve sufficient amounts of retail politics. The praises of which I sang lustily:

'So much of what is packaged and distributed in American politics at the national level is, let us be honest, a lie -- or spin, or an illusion, or a partisan manipulation of facts, or something bought and paid for by special interests. Perhaps it's just bad journalism, or tabloid trash, or the mindless spew of cable TV shouters. You don't have to be completely marinated in your own cynicism to perceive that much of what we call "politics" is a farce, a sham, a travesty and a buncha bull malarkey.

'Hence the virtue of retail politics. Retail politics might not cure all our civic sins, but it makes us feel better. The scale is so human and humble, the surroundings so picturesque. The enterprise seems more authentic. There's just the candidate in the flesh -- a real human being. If he can't think on his feet, it'll show. If he has the soul of a lizard, we'll know.'

I'll post more about this later this morning on The Trail. But in retrospect my fears were largely unfounded, and indeed the opposite occurred: Most of the candidates embunkered themselves in Iowa and, to a somewhat lesser extent, New Hampshire. How many tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars -- and months of campaigning -- were spent trying to woo Iowans? Someone needs to do an accounting. And get busy coming up with a system that makes more sense than the one we've got.

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 14, 2008; 7:34 AM ET
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