This is a rather extraordinary news item, coming from Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column on July 23. What a revolutionary idea. No matter how you slice it, this is a situation that will wreak havoc on the 2012 election if it catches on, which I suspect it will:
Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012. I know it sounds gimmicky — an Internet convention — but an impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents, called Americans Elect, is really serious, and they have thought out this process well. In a few days, Americans Elect will formally submit the 1.6 million signatures it has gathered to get on the presidential ballot in California as part of its unfolding national effort to get on the ballots of all 50 states for 2012.
The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open — guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.
“Our goal is to open up what has been an anticompetitive process to people in the middle who are unsatisfied with the choices of the two parties,” said Kahlil Byrd, the C.E.O. of Americans Elect, speaking from its swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.
As the group explains on its Web site, www.americanselect.org: “Americans Elect is the first-ever open nominating process. We’re using the Internet to give every single voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012. The people will choose the issues. The people will choose the candidates. And in a secure, online convention next June, the people will make history by putting their choice on the ballot in every state.”
Here is how it will work, explains Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq war veteran with a Silver Star, who serves as the chief operating officer of Americans Elect, and whose father, Peter, a successful investor, has been a prime engine behind the group. First, anyone interested in becoming a delegate goes to the Americans Elect Web site and registers. As part of that process, you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about your political priorities: education, foreign policy, the economy, etc. This enables Americans Elect to put you in contact with others who share your views so you can discuss them and organize together. Then you will be invited to draft a candidate or support one who has already been drafted and to contribute to the list of questions that anyone running on the Americans Elect platform will have to answer on the site.
“The questions, the priorities, the nominations and the rules will all come from the community, not from two entrenched parties,” said Ackerman.
If Americans Elect are already getting such high-level press coverage, the media at large might sniff a sexy story here. Is Americans Elect the American Idol of politics? It looks like we’re about to find out. This eagle seems to landing fully-formed. On the ballot in California when they launch? C’est formidable. The outcome of this, if it catches on, will really be something to see unfold.
This seems like quite a positive development and I will be watching this space closely myself. This has some potential to unleash some real populism and that can be a mixed blessing. If there was a modern day Huey Long, for instance, who came out of something like this, to me this would be fantastic. Or if given a chance to nominate Bernie Sanders for POTUS came about so more people had to hear what he has to say, again, sounds great to me.
Now imagine the Teabagger flip-side to that equation. Not nearly so pretty.
ON THE OTHER HAND, this might also be the right vehicle for exposing and laying bare the way the political system really works for the common man. It’s very difficult to see where something like this will eventually land, but almost certainly it will have repercussions for the two main political parties in this nation. It’s impossible to predict exactly how at this early juncture, so I won’t try.
What’s still unclear to me is WHO these potential nominees will be and where they will come from. It’s not like a city council member from Battle Creek, Michigan or a Harvard professor of French literature or Joe the Plumber really have much of a chance of winning the general election, of course. Keep in mind that almost no members of the House have ever won a US Presidential election. Senators and governors, yes. Eisenhower, of course, was a great war hero. WHO is the as yet unknown person of great stature who could really beat the candidates of the two major parties? Not saying it’s impossible, but it sure seems unlikely. For now this seems closer to fantasy football than real electoral politics, but if the right individuals present themselves—and again, I can’t imagine who they are—then all bets would be off. What is so compelling about this, to my mind, is its potential to influence the national debate. The fact that there is a level of American Idol to it is an absolute stroke a genius. The population could become really emotionally invested in this.
I intend to sign up at Americans Elect today. I’ll probably nominate Bernie Sanders when I do
Write it down: Americans Elect. What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.
Below, a short biography of Huey Long from the Pathe News service: