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Here’s what I love about the presidential primaries. They show us American politics for exactly what it is.
Immediately after Mitt Romney won Maryland, Wisconsin, and D.C. this week, I started hearing people who identify themselves as Republicans or conservatives calling for Romney’s rivals—Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul—to drop out. This sentiment echoes what I’ve been hearing from these people for several months now, since long before Romney won enough states to make a Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul comeback mathematically uncomfortable. The thinking here goes that the nomination is Romney’s, we already know the nomination is Romney’s, and the longer these other guys continue to challenge this foregone conclusion, the more time, energy, and money will be wasted focusing on the primaries instead of Barack Obama.
I get this viewpoint. Really, I do. But I also get that two things are implicit within it:
1. that the only thing that matters is putting in someone who can beat Barack Obama, even if that someone essentially is Barack Obama; and
2. that even though these primaries are part of a democratic process, and some states have yet to participate in that process (I’m sitting here in Pennsylvania, where there hasn’t been a primary yet), it’s okay to let the few decide for the many, because, after all, November is getting closer, and we need Barack Obama-B to concentrate on beating Barack Obama-A.
It’s this second point that truly intrigues me. And even though we’re currently seeing it from the pro-Romney population, I don’t think it’s some genetic abnormality specific to that group. If Santorum was in the lead here, and Romney was playing catch-up, we’d be seeing all the Rickheads out there imploring Mitt Romney to tap the mat three times and waddle off into the sunset. If Republicans held the White House, and Democrats were mired in this primary instead, we’d be hearing similar sentiments coming from that side of the aisle as well.
Of course you know what all of this means, and it’s that the presidency doesn’t really matter. Oh, we think that it matters, we say that it matters—sometimes we even go to sleep dreaming that it matters. But it doesn’t matter, it hasn’t mattered in some time, and until some highly unusual individual wins the office and changes everything (Ron Paul), it probably won’t matter again in our lifetimes.
This whole thing is one giant game of capture-the-flag. All of us know it, but we choose to pretend otherwise, because telling ourselves it is what it is would take all the fun out of rooting for a side. The closer we get to this election, the more we’re going to hear about how essential it is to the running of our country, and how our democracy is tied up in it—but as we’re seeing with these calls for Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul to drop out, the democratic part of this democratic process isn’t as important as win, win, win.
There’s going to be a number of people who are going to disagree with me on this. Some of these people will be Barack Obama supporters who see Mitt Romney and think the sky will fall if he gets elected. Others will be Romney people who think the sky has already fallen under Obama and Romney’s the Atlas who’s gonna pick it up for us. It’s cute when people believe in politicians. When I was a kid, I believed in Santa. But before you send me that nasty email (which I welcome), try to believe in this: No matter who wins between these two, there’s going to be more war. It may come in Iran, it may come elsewhere, but it will come, as it does under every president. No matter who wins between them, our economy will continue to struggle. And no matter who wins between them, our wasteful government will continue to grow.
I know these things and can rest assured in them because America long ago gave up the idea that the job of a politician was to restrain the government. If that was what we thought, then we wouldn’t be discussing whether Rick Santorum should “let go and let Romney,” because we’d be too busy talking about which one of these guys is actually good for the country. But we don’t care which one is good for the country. Our guy is good for the country. End of story. And when you already think your candidate’s goodness is a given, you can get away with justifying anything they do, even when their actions defy all reason.