02/17/2012 09:32 am ET | Updated Apr 18, 2012

GOPowers to the People

Analysts who fret about the health of America's democracy and fear that the voters are being marginalized by insiders, the rich and the media exercising outsized power must be breathing an enormous sigh of relief as they watch the Republicans select their presidential candidate.

Any doubts that the people rule should be put to rest by the vibrant and robust process now underway.

It seems to simultaneously undercut several of the arguments made by those who feel that the process is rigged:

  • That money talks, inducing voters to embrace candidates and policies they'd otherwise reject.
  • That Washington insiders rig the process to favor friends they have access to and excluding anyone who challenges conventional wisdom.
  • That the media, by prematurely anointing potential winners and losers, discourage voters from going to the polls by convincing them that the selection has already been made.

It will take a lot of verbal agility -- something the critical chattering class has in abundance -- to keep any of these arguments alive in today's environment. Those who suggest that today's political climate is somehow extraordinary need also explain the 2008 Democratic nomination contest where the insiders' favorite was rejected (subsequently winning a consolation prize as Secretary of State) and a little-known insurgent, now addressed as Mr. President, won the nomination.

When the 2012 race began, the major worry involved the role of new, secretive super political action committees that could apparently spend unlimited amounts of money to convince the public to endorse bad ideas -- like the privatization of Social Security or major Medicare cuts.

So far, it hasn't turned out that way. Instead, it seems that the first such investment to move the needle was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's multimillion gift backing Newt Gingrich, keeping his campaign alive and proving that the Romney nomination was not a done deal, which opened the way for more than a few interesting subsequent developments.

The eternally entertaining Gingrich then seized the day by declaring that his candidacy should be supported partly because it was causing gastric distress for the Washington Establishment that backed Romney, ignoring the reality (described more fully in Mike Tackett's Businessweek piece) that the Washington Establishment was a leaky balloon, which he knew early from his service on its board of directors.

At this point many in the press reported a surprising development -- Gingrich was topping the polls. For those lacking a decoder, a surprising development is something the media failed to detect earlier. There were more to come. Each was described similarly. By this point, the campaign had been characterized as a debate about how to best revive the economy, with voters who cared about moral issues being classed as cranks comparable to the Ron Paul supporters who wanted to close the Fed.

Then, in yet another unexpected development, Rick Santorum artfully expanded his conservative Catholicism to raise moral issues about economic fairness, and apparently made use of millions more from a super PAC he had a loose affiliation with (as a public service, Stephen Colbert has been presenting a public tutorial on the loose affiliation question in recent weeks) to tarnish his competitors a bit. In the latest surprising development, that argument about economic justice is apparently resonating in Michigan, which pundits ceded to hometown boy Mitt Romney months ago.

For those who've noted several pretexts and see them as further evidence that money not only talks, but typically trumps, it is important to recall that the candidate with the biggest wallet, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, flamed out after a series of embarrassingly entertaining debate performances.

Somehow, it seems, the voters actually watched these debates and were more influenced by them than the carpet-bombed commercials and, once again, despite the fears of reformers, money has followed those with public popularity rather than creating them.

You don't have to be enamored with any of the Republican candidates to enjoy the exercise and the proof it provides that power resides with the people.
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