One of the numerous things wrong with the presidential election process is the enormous amount of media attention and weight -- not necessarily in order of importance -- given to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries. Anything that diminishes their reign of terror on the selection process is to be heartily supported by everyone who lives outside of those states, which is to say nearly everyone in the country.
For that reason alone, "Super Tuesday" is a blessing. In hindsight, it may not turn out to be perfect, but it's a good start toward getting more voters involved in picking their party's nominee. Put another way, if you live in Super Tuesday primary states you have more chance than you might have had to be voting for a candidate you want in November.
For those of us who live in Virginia, Super Tuesday is a first. The Republican primary is being called a popularity contest because the results will not affect the selection of delegates. Republicans will continue to select their delegates through a complicated caucus process that will go on until mid-May and challenge the staying power of every party activist in the state.
For Democrats, however, March 8 is the first time that they will be able to select convention delegates in a primary, which means they will be making their choice in a closed voting booth rather than in a publicly assembled caucus. And that's very good news for Jesse L. Jackson, because that will make it easier for white voters to support him.
And the bet here is that a surprisingly large number will.
Jackson is the one candidate among the Democrats who has consistently grown in stature during the campaign. He is the only one who is making a major statement about the disenfranchised, who has made the call for economic justice the centerpiece of his campaign. Those are not new themes for him; what is new is that after seven years of Republican economics those themes are finding their audience. The growing economic disparity between rich and poor, the decline of the middle class, the steady erosion of family incomes and buying power, the loss of factory jobs and family farms are all being translated into votes. That's the American way.
Jackson talked about economic justice in 1984 and he's talking about it in the primaries this year. More people are listening in part because more people are hurting. A campaign for economic justice is no longer the campaign rhetoric of a radical civil rights activist or the rallying point for the rag-tag bands of left-wing peace marchers who appear in Washington as soon as we start getting some nice weather. When Jackson talks about economic justice now, he is talking about a theme that resonates deep into the hearts and pocketbooks of the working class, and that now includes the middle class.
Those are families that are staggering under the burdens of college costs, housing costs and in growing numbers of cases the staggering health and emotional costs of caring for elderly parents. Those are families in which both adults are working to make ends meet and they can't get help with dependent care. Those are families headed by single mothers who are poor and whose children are daily at risk from any number of destructive forces. Those families, those voters, are white as well as black.
The media gave Jackson the black vote early and then swiftly wrote him off, which shows just how smart the media are -- or how easily they are coopted by an establishment candidate such as Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis who was instantly anointed front-runner when former senator Gary Hart withdrew.
Jackson went on to remarkably strong showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Maine. He got 26 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary in Vermont, which his campaign coordinator described as "the whitest state in the country." What was most significant about his second-place finish to Dukakis there was that it established Jackson's appeal among white voters. "We continue to grow; our message continues to win," Jackson said of the results. "We have found a common chord that links the American people."
The day after the Vermont primary, The Washington Post published the results of the latest Post-ABC poll on the 16 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday. The results: Dukakis and Jackson are running neck and neck for the Democratic nomination while Vice President Bush holds a nearly 3-to-1 lead over Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.) for the Republican nomination.
A color-blind handicapper would look at the figures about now and start betting some serious money on Jackson. As they say at the track, he can go the distance.