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March 05, 2015

The MassPoliticsProfs are grateful to The Martin Institute at Stonehill College for sponsoring Party Matters and I’m delighted to be asked to be one of the panelists for the launch tonight at 6:30 in District Hall 75 Northern Avenue, Boston. I’m even glad that our first session will focus on the fifteen percent rule both parties use at their conventions to weed out candidates before the primaries; even though I suspect not many people will agree with my defense of the rule.

I back the fifteen percent rule because it is a small step to require candidates to deal with actual people in actual communities during a campaign. The rule gives those people some real power over the process. Leading candidates know they need delegates to win the party’s endorsement at the convention or at least to exceed expectations. Marginal candidates know they need delegates to keep their candidacies alive past the convention. Not all the people the candidates will meet during the process of campaigning toward the caucuses and convention will become delegates but many will; and many of the rest will attend caucuses and vote, or maybe even contribute money or accept assignments as precinct captains in the candidate’s organization. They aren’t there to perform as extras in a television commercial; they are they to participate.

Whatever brings citizens in contact with candidates to discuss what is on their minds, I favor. Whatever brings citizens together to discuss the issues they agree and disagree upon, I favor. That doesn’t happen watching a thirty-second SuperPAC advertisement. Go ahead, try to find a respectful common ground with a TV ad.

Yes some of these caucus goers might be termed “insiders” or members of “special interests.” Gasp. The horror.

Among the positive roles parties can play is to bring various interests together into an organization or forum that can aggregate ideas and interests and seek common territory, knowing that one group won’t win all and all will have to compromise to provide a winning coalition. Parties bring people with different interests and approaches together to hash out what they can live with and find the best representatives to manage their shared concerns. Parties do not celebrate the individual because they realize the individual is powerless in our complex society. The more locally these organizations can operate, the better.

Yes to have some influence on the convention process takes some work; it’s called involvement. That is a good thing.

Our campaigns today, particularly in as much as they rely on the media, disdain citizen involvement. In fact they disdain the very idea of citizenship.

To stick with the nomination process, I’ll renew my argument that voters who stayed home from the September 9, 2014 party primaries behaved perfectly rationally. If voters were even aware of the Democratic primary they weren’t engaging in any deliberative act, they were simply unable to avoid SuperPAC ads. Every poll to that point had Martha Coakley a prohibitive favorite. The final pre-primary poll recorded at HuffPost Pollster, which ended two days before the September 9 primary, had Coakley winning by twenty-one points. The HuffPost Pollling Trend aggregator had Coakely ahead with forty-four percent over Grossman who had twenty-three percent, and Berman at eleven percent. Coakley won by six.

In fact, Coakley might well be considered “Candidate of the Year.” In fifty-eight polls recorded at HuffPost on the governor’s race pitting her against Charlie Baker, she was ahead in forty of them.

Polls and television ads are both part of the problematic failures of market drive media-ocracy, but the fifteen percent rule that pushes candidates to meet activists and activists to hash out their differences is not. So I’ll defend the fifteen percent rule tonight and I hope you’ll come join me. Or come to shout me down; that’s participation and it’s better than waiting for a poll to tell you what to think or a television advertisement to exploit your emotions.

See you there.

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