OK, so let me get this straight.
The US presidential campaign (if it ever begins) will be fought around the provision of universal health care, amnesty for illegal immigrants and, if there’s time, the economy.
Well, unless sometime in the last four years, 300 million Americans were removed and replaced with a bunch of Canadians, which just doesn’t seem likely.
The economy will be front and center, followed closely by Iraq, Afghanistan, the “War on Terror” generally, and potentially, “trust” issues that still linger after the Bush years.
All of which raises the question — what the hell is happening in all these primaries?
The Democrats are fighting over whose health care plan covers more people and who will give more to illegal immigrants.
That might play well with primary voters, but both are killers in a national election, because both of them undercut the biggest domestic issue — the floundering economy.
You cannot pay tens if not hundreds of billions more (over a four-year term) for health care, even as the economy sags and tax revenues fall.
Just getting rid of the Bush tax cut for the wealthy won’t be enough to cover the costs and there isn’t going to be extra money anywhere else. (Even if there is an immediate withdrawal from Iraq instituted, that will take time and will cost more money in the initial years, especially as we prop up the Iraqi government and military in the interim.)
And even if a new president could afford health care, he or she couldn’t do it while inching towards providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Citizenship would increase the coverage for such a plan to an estimated 12 million more people, all while the working class complains about having its jobs taken away by these newly legitimized immigrants.
Even if the economy were booming, it would amount to political suicide and insanity.
So, all the Republicans have to do is nominate some generally conservative individual with strong opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants and a moderate position on Iraq.
With that nominee in place, the path to the White House is assured.
Only one problem — the Republicans primaries are as screwed up as their Democratic counterparts.
The GOP has nominated Senator John McCain in all but name.
He is the co-sponsor on the now-defunct amnesty for illegal immigrants bill and is a hawk on the war, who supported the current troop surge well before it was popular and insists that America must be in Iraq for decades to come.
In other words, he is the only candidate that could potentially lose to whoever the Democrats choose, because his own base might desert him for a third-party candidate or just decide to stay home on voting day.
So, where are these nominees going to get their votes?
There’s been lots of talk lately about “independent” voters and how well McCain and Barack Obama are doing with that group.
The perception is that these two candidates are scoring well with unaffiliated voters and that as a result, they will do well in a general election.
What no one is talking about is that even with the huge turnout by primary standards, the percentage of actual voters that participate in primaries is generally between 10 and 20 per cent of the actual electorate.
Also, when these voters step into a ballot box, they are choosing between two people from the same party.
How those votes change when there is a real distinction between the candidates isn’t measured.
During the general elections, everyone is an “independent” and what happened in the primaries just doesn’t matter.
Which gets us back to where we started — what the hell is going on?
Folks might be tempted to believe that America is changing and that we are the cusp of a new era, where the nation’s foreign policy will dramatically shift, even as domestic policy makes an about-face.
The reality, though, is that nothing changes that much, that quickly.
Not a small business.
Not a large corporation.
Not a medium-sized European power.
And certainly not one of the richest, most powerful nations on earth that has an electoral system fueled by multi-million dollar contributors whose wealth depends on maintaining the status quo.
The real answer is much less dramatic.
These primaries are all about the two bases airing their wish lists and seeing which candidate is the better Santa Clause.
That’s the way it always is. It’s how guys like Michael Dukakis and Bob Dole win their party nominations, only to get clobbered in the real race.
Once the primaries are done, the party base gets ignored. It just doesn’t matter that much anymore, because they’re usually going to vote for the party nominee, no matter what.
It’s the average Joes and Julias that matter, and they don’t choose based on party-line issues.
They choose based on the size of their paycheque, whether they can afford gas for their car and home heating, and whether they can afford to send a kid to college without re-mortgaging their homes.
The parties are very cognizant of these realities, even if they don’t talk about it.
That’s why Clinton is still considered viable after 11 consecutive losses. She has staked out positions unpopular with the base, but which play well in a general election.
How Obama will escape from his own, less popular, commitments leaves some Democrats worried, and as a result, the nomination isn’t quite settled.
Once the sides have chosen their horse, the real race will begin and the real electorate will start making judgments.
And when that happens, expect to see very different sides of the particular horse you might be backing.
Michael Hale is a former journalist and political hack who doesn’t care one bit about who John McCain flirted with eight years ago. Read his blog at north60hale.blogspot.com/