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Optimists, Pessimists And The Muddying Of America's Political Process

When it comes to the race for president, is America's glass half full -- or half empty? (Gerry Broome/AP)
When it comes to the race for president, is America's glass half full -- or half empty? (Gerry Broome/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

I’m a member of the Optimists’ Club. It used to be a great club. The dues were low, we had terrific members and a full and fun set of activities.

Our main rival was the Pessimists’ Club. Even though its dues were about the same as ours, all of its members thought it too expensive. None of the members seemed to like each other and they were always complaining the club offered them little to do.

Everything was fine until one year we had elections for president and someone from the Pessimists’ Club decided to run. Even though we tried to make the best of it (of course), it was a disaster. It turned out our rules didn’t require you be a member of the Optimists’ Club to run for president. Even worse, anyone could vote! So the pessimists turned out in droves. So too did folks who weren’t members of either club — those middle of the roaders who can never decide whether the glass is half full of half empty. The result? We ended up with a pessimist as our president. It destroyed the club — and speaking as an optimist, that’s a tough thing to say.

Everything was fine until one year we had elections for president and someone from the Pessimists’ Club decided to run.

Now you may wonder, why on earth did the Optimists Club allow pessimists and other non-members to participate in its elections? After all, wouldn’t it make sense that you have to be an optimist and a member of the club to vote?

I agree. But, dumb as they may be, those were the rules.

And apparently, those are the rules as well of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

On the Democratic side, there’s a candidate running — Bernie Sanders — who has never previously been a member of the Democratic party. He was a Democratic Socialist, a very different beast indeed. Yet the Democrats just let him run without ever questioning whether it made sense to actually have someone who’s not actually a Democrat running for their party’s nomination.

Moreover, many of the Democratic primaries allow pretty much anyone to sign up the day of the election to vote. Instead of so-called “closed” primaries, where only real Democrats can vote, the open primaries allow folks with no affiliation to the party to vote. And sure enough, Sanders starts winning in these open primaries. And he starts complaining about the closed primaries, claiming the system is rigged and complaining even further when the real stalwarts of the Democratic party — the super-delegates who have been with the party for years — are also allowed a voice at the upcoming convention.

Luckily for the Democrats, it looks, despite all of this, like a real Democrat will end up getting the nomination. The same can’t be said for the Republican Party.

Luckily for the Democrats, it looks, despite all of this, like a real Democrat will end up getting the nomination. The same can’t be said for the Republican Party.

They too had a guy — Donald Trump — run for their nomination who made clear he wanted nothing to do with the GOP. He was only recently a member of the party anyway, and didn’t subscribe to many of its traditional conservative beliefs. In closed primaries and caucuses, he generally didn’t do that well. But in open primaries, he’d attract a slew of independents and disaffected Democrats. He even bragged about this, boasting about how many new members he was bringing into the Republican Party. But that was like the pessimists bragging about how many new members they were bringing into the Optimists’ Club. True, of course, but really, we are no longer a club of optimists.

So what to do now? In our case, we’re forming a new club. We’re going to call it the “Real Optimists’ Club.” And when we do, we’re going to make sure that elections are open to members only. If other folks want their own clubs, well then, let them start their own clubs.

It seems to me the Democrats and Republicans might want to follow suit.

Tom Keane Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.

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