We hear a lot of political rhetoric about spreading democracy around the world, but let's be clear about one thing: The United States is not a democracy pure and simple. We live in a democratic republic. We elect the officials who are responsible for carrying out our political will and looking after our best interests.
As the primary election looms close on Maryland's horizon, a certain term that is used ad nauseam by political pundits goes to the heart of a flaw in our democratic republic and the democratic process: "electability."
In the presidential primaries, "electability" is used to describe a candidate who shares enough of the political ideology of enough members of one of the two major parties to win the nomination. More important, it describes a candidate who is gaining momentum throughout the progression of state primary elections.
The fact that political pundits analyze candidates in terms of their "electability" and not solely in terms of political ideologies and records can influence people away from voting for the candidate with whom they sympathize and toward voting for the candidate whom everyone in the party can stomach.
In our system, the true choice of the individual is often considered a wasted vote for a candidate who can never win, a candidate who is not "electable."
This concept threatens the democratic process. In a democratic republic, the individual has the power of choice. With this power comes responsibility to learn about the field of candidates based on ideology, voting record and so on, and to vote based on political affinity with the candidate whom he or she feels will do the best job.
Do you lean toward the libertarian side of the Republican Party? Then your vote is for Ron Paul in the primary, whether or not Mr. Paul has a chance of winning. Are you a passionately anti-war and pro-universal health care Democrat? Then - if you're willing to overlook the occasional comment about UFOs - Dennis Kucinich should be your man. That is what democracy is about.
When "electability" is added to the mix, the fact that primaries are not held nationwide on the same day gives significant sway to the opinions of the voters in a handful of states, such as New Hampshire. Voters in states with later primaries often abandon their candidates of choice - or are abandoned by them as their favorites drop out before primary day (as Rudolph W. Giuliani and John Edwards did last week).
The sad fact for Maryland's voters is that by Feb. 12, when we vote, the contest may be decided, given that Maryland's primary is one week after Super Tuesday. The tragedy for democracy is that so many voters' opinions are changed by primaries in other states - all on account of "electability."
The simple solution? Hold all state primary elections on the same day, making that Tuesday truly "super." This would give the democratic election process the best chance.
To keep your choice as a voter as responsible, as free and as personally satisfying as possible, learn about the candidates early. Listen to them as Election Day approaches. Above all, vote for the person whom you trust.
And if any pundit starts to prattle about "electability," change the channel or turn the page. Fast.
Joseph Farrell is a lecturer in the department of philosophy and religious studies at Morgan State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.