TO: Fellow members of the Punditocracy
FROM: The Committee to Select the 2004 Democratic Presidential Nominee
SUBJECT: The upcoming primaries and caucuses
All those states scrambling to move up their presidential primary dates, with their devotion to democracy, their desire to make a difference — it’s really rather touching, isn’t it?
Don’t they realize that it is we, the pundits, who are going to select the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 — not a few voters in Iowa and New Hampshire?
What follows are some pointers for covering the developing presidential campaign — and keeping our hegemony.
1. Remember, real voters will actually go to real caucuses and vote in real primaries next January and February. We have to feign respect.
2. More important, we have to ensure that we have so defined the parameters of the nominating contest that it will hardly matter what the voters do. And if they bollix up the Conventional Wisdom (which we create), well, duh! It was the Conventional Wisdom! No one believes any of that anyway.
3. Even if the result is a “surprise,” it’ll only be a surprise because we say it is. And we reserve the right to contradict ourselves, again and again.
4. Establish impossibly high expectations. Suppose Dick Gephardt wins the Iowa caucuses. (Or, to be more precise, finishes first. Only we decree who has “won” and who has “lost” a state.) Yawn. He was supposed to win there, right? He’s been plowing those fields since Mike Dukakis first fell in love with Belgian endive. Tell us who finishes second, no matter how distant — now there’s a race. We’ll build that sucker up until we can tear him down.
John Kerry wins New Hampshire? So what! Ketchup money will have bought and paid for the entire state by then. There is no margin he could win by that will satisfy us. Bring on President Dean!
5. Remember, we can characterize those voters any way we see fit. Iowans are hopeless peaceniks. And what do those cranks in New Hampshire matter, anyway? We don’t see Pat Buchanan sitting in the Oval Office. Or John McCain. Or Paul Tsongas (R.I.P. — we disliked that sanctimonious guy on the campaign trail, but, in retrospect, we admired his honesty). Ed Muskie won New Hampshire by 9 points in 1972, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy us.
6. Now, what happens after Iowa and New Hampshire is anybody’s guess. Chances are, most of the candidates will be bereft and broke by then, having wasted all their time, energy and money trying to outsmart us. We’ll make some arbitrary calculation involving the number four to determine who’s dead and who’s alive (i.e. 1st place in Iowa and 3rd place in New Hampshire is OK; so is 2nd and 2nd or 3rd and 1st. But 2nd and 3rd, even 1st and 4th, is probably death).
Whoever has money left to play in the next couple of primaries will probably be the nominee, at which point we can begin writing them off. It should all be over by mid-February, which satisfies our need for instant gratification. Then, with a nostalgic eye to the protracted primary seasons of years past, when we stretched those expense accounts and could count on interfacing with University of Wisconsin co-eds in March, Main Line blue bloods in April, and Californians of all shapes and sizes in May, we’ll spend the next several months lamenting how the process ends too soon and is less democratic than ever before.
Until then, let’s review the steps we’ve taken to ensure our importance in the nominating process.
We’ve already created two tiers for the candidates. And our executive committee has already created these early artificial tests for the candidates:
— The Money Primary.
— The Consultant Primary.
— The Hot New Operative Primary (remember, we’re just as happy anointing the next Rove or Ragin’ Cajun as selecting the next Leader of the Free World).
— The David Broder Primary.
— The Tim Russert Primary.
— The Personal Health Primary.
— The Spouse Primary.
— The Youthful Indiscretion Primary.
— The Pander to Every Conceivable Interest Group Primary (as if they matter, those suckers).
— The Finesse the Al Sharpton Question Primary.
This should ensure that we set the tone for the campaign, but if you have additional suggestions, please pass them along to The Committee. If not, see you at the Union Oyster House.