THE LAST absentee ballot of the campaign has been tallied; the last concession speech has been delivered. Condolences and congratulations have been distributed where appropriate. Now get ready for the (well-deserved) blizzard of suggested changes in both the party rules and the public laws that govern the way we choose our presidents.
Undoubtedly, changes will be made in delegate-selection rules and the federal election reform act. Some of these changes will probably be good, especially any that help to de-bureaucratize political campaigns. (One of the real disadvantages of the election reform act and the Federal Election Commission, which the act created, is that the endless regulations and and forms have seemed to drain too much of the spontaneity from caompaigns and simply to provide a sort of giant CETA program for certified public accountants.) And it is surely true that the ceiling on individual contributions to candidates for federal office should be raised from the present
,000 to $5,000.
Wholesale changes actually may be needed. But as context for the discussion to come, a couple of -- yes -- good things should be said about the just-completed presidential campaign.
First, both major-party presidential nominees were undeniably the popular choices of their respective parties. That is not something to be ignored. Neither convention in the summer of 1980 was remotely like the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and at least one reason was that no group of party members could argue with any legitimacy that it had been excluded from the nominating process.
The incumbent president had two challengers to his renomination: one the leading political figure in his party for more than a decade, and the other the second-term governor of our most populous and, arguably, most complex state. Both challengers proposed policies different from those the president has pursued. President Carter defeated both men. Gov. Reagan faced formidable opposition for the GOP nomination. His challengers included senators and congressmen of accomplishment, former Cabinet officers and -- all the time waiting for the right opening -- the still popular former president Gerald Ford. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter had no soft touches on their primary schedules on the way to winning their nominations.
There is something right at work when presidential candidates in the number and quality available in 1980 volunteer to run. Probably the campaign is too long. But stamina and judgement under intense pressure (like that required in a presidential campaign) are valuable qualities in a president. Long-shot candidates were not discouraged, and that 1980 incumbent had, himself, been a very long shot in 1976. Money, either a candidate's own or that which he had access to, certainly did not determine who won this time. Remember former governor John Connally's $10-million delegate?
Certainly, too much of a candidate's and a compaign's time and effort under the present law are taken up with raising money and reporting who gave it and how it was spent. We do have too many primaries. Party people and elected office holders can be encouraged to play more significant roles in the nominating process. But let's remember that in 1980 the system did not discourage that many people from running and did faithfully reflect the popular will of the participating party members in the nomination of candidates. It's important to be certain that the next round of changes does the same.