Marvin Vangilder: Campaign confusion is unique

Marvin Vangilder

I have been a close-up and personal observer of presidential election campaigns in this country since the 1930s, with historical perception in mind throughout. In the heat of the latest campaign, this journey around the competition calendar has some characteristics in common with most of its predecessors but with the added element of a few of its own.

Partisanship is nothing new, of course, but it has reared its head earlier than in most previous campaigns, becoming a bitter and even caustic factor in the preliminary primary campaign as well as the final approach to the general election in November.

This has had a dominant effect on both major parties and served to blur the lines that define the parties themselves. It also weakens their control over individual candidacies and the character exposed in their behavior.

One predictable result is a loss of strength by both traditional parties and more widespread assumption of  independent  status on the part of a large percentage of the voting-age populace. I won’t go so far as to predict 2008 may spell the end of our traditional political organizations, but it is difficult to avoid the real danger they face.

The leading parties in the still two-party system are appearing to have lost their defining identities. Their spokespersons separate into conservative, centrist and liberal segments within their tribal lines, tending toward elimination of their defining boundaries. They suggest the serious probability that neither the Democrat or Republican organizations as long identified can be certain of surviving to see another campaign.

It is to be hoped this may produce a serious effort by politicians in general to clarify their philosophical identities, since this is a vital factor upon arrival at the general election polls and since it still determines the general process by which candidates are selected and enabled.

For this election, it appears a greater number of non-affiliated voters will enter their polling booths without clear understanding of who and what they individually are advocating by their choices. Some confusion in the final choices in each individual race, from the president down to the local precinct leaders, may occur, while the signals relayed to the head of the ticket may provide no clear direction on the nature of  governmental leadership desired by his/her constituency.

The confusion also may turn the traditional, convenient  straight ticket  into history.

This is but one of many changes in fundamental tradition that may result from this campaign and the election that follows.

We also face the possibility of the first woman president or the first black president, or a ticket containing one of each.

Meanwhile, we also must confront the multiple problems created by the growing tendency to rely upon already discredited polling techniques as means of predicting election outcomes and assessing the impact of various campaign tactics upon individual voters or blocks of citizens sharing common cause.

One probability at least is clear: This election will go into the history books as one that reshapes and redefines the electoral process at the national level and changes the attitudes of all Americans regarding what an election should be and ideally should achieve.

Whether that is a good or bad development will have to await post-election assessment.

Carthage Press