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The United States of Dysfunction, by Carl Jarvis

The hour is grave because of what we have forgotten.


by By Kathryn van der Pol

United states of dysfunction book cover

The United States of Dysfunction, by Carl Jarvis

Imagine you were transported back to the early days of the Republic and you are a member of Congress. George Washington's second term as President is ending, and a new presidential campaign is underway. All the members of the Federalist Party are meeting in one room while you and the members of the Democratic Republicans are meeting in another. What is the purpose of these meetings? Why, it’s to nominate the candidates for the next presidential election.

Who did your party nominate? Why, no other than Thomas Jefferson. Who did the Federalists nominate? John Adams.

Two of our most esteemed presidents were selected by Congress? How did that happen? Find out by reading Carl Jarvis's book, The United States of Dysfunction. In it, he traces the history of how candidates for public office have been nominated and the effects of that nominating system on our governmental institutions, public policies, culture and leadership. With our current two “presumptive nominees” there could not be a better time to read this book.

As moderns of the 21st century, it’s difficult to imagine anything other than our current primary system, but Carl Jarvis's book traces the three main systems from the days of George Washington up to the modern direct primary. Along with that, he points to many ills resulting from our current nominating system.

As far as solutions, he does not recommend that we go back to the time when Congress nominated our presidential candidates, but he does have some very good ideas.

Jarvis argues that the country was much healthier politically when we used the Indirect Primary System.

His book is carefully researched and full of insights. Did you know that our country existed for over a 100 years without money contributions during the primary season? That there was a time that PACs and paid lobbyists did not exist? That we actually had another body of elected citizens who served and acted as a liaison between the candidates, the office holders, and the people? These delegates provided another body of representation of government by the people, for the people, and of the people. These elected "delegates" attended the party convention to debate issues, find qualified candidates, and nominate the best qualified people for all elected positions, not just President.

Picture your primary ballot containing names of your neighbors to go serve and figure out who would best represent the community in a general election. Do you think we would have better qualified candidates than we have today?

One point he argues well is that our current system encourages the wrong types of personalities to run for office, perpetuates incumbency and bureaucratic power, and erodes our respect for law. Conservatives will find his research and conclusions compelling.

The better system, the indirect primary system, Jarvis explains, began with the election of Andrew Jackson. The indirect primary system was in use from 1824 to 1912 with the election of Woodrow Wilson. Is that a surprise?

How did it work? Ordinary citizens' names appeared on a ballot. They were your neighbors who were not pledged to any candidate but were members of a political party. At the party convention, the delegates through discussion and discernment selected a list of candidates. Then, they voted on candidates until there was a plurality.

I am going to bullet point some of Jarvis’s conclusions about the Indirect Primary System. He argues that presidents elected before 1912 were:
• of higher moral character;
• focused on principles, not interests;
• less driven by personal ambition (since some were tapped who had never considered "running" for the presidency;
• nominated by citizens who were more informed on the issues and more knowledgeable about the duties and limits of the office;
• more loyal to the platform of the party.

Jarvis argues that a return to the Indirect Primary System would not require a constitutional amendment. It may require some changes to state laws, but the effect that it would have on the election cycle would be instantaneous. It would reduce the need for money in the primary season. It would place much more focus on the party's major public policy agenda, and it would create an opportunity for local people to have a real voice in the nominating system.

Jarvis firmly correlates how we nominate with the resulting culture, public policies, and big government, regulatory nanny state. Changing how we nominate, improves everything.

I highly recommend every citizen, office holder, and bureaucrat read his book and think about his message. If you agree, then buy extra copies and send them as gifts to your friends and leaders, commentators, professors. We need to have this conversation now.




Comments






Joseph
CA
22 May 2016
at 03:20AM

The two party system is like playing a deadly game of Russian roulette with no empty chambers in the gun. It's going to kill us. I'm frighten by these fanatic persons running for president. But I do think more and more people are seeing the light, just not enough yet.

Josh
UT
22 May 2016
at 11:42AM

Just ordered my copy. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

William
UT
22 May 2016
at 01:48PM

Interesting article. When I was younger, just getting involved in politics, New York had a system where local citizen's names were on the ballot as delegates. I have been partial to that idea ever since. Because we will likely never get away from the "populist selection process we should have a uniform date and time for presidential primaries nationwide. Example: 1st Tuesday in June from 12:01AM through midnight. EST. Every state would hold their primaries on that day, and, match the time period according to their time zone. Good post, thanks.


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