As the stomach turns

Nevada’s first special U.S. House election since the 19th century is history now. And it—together with the approaching 2012 U.S. Senate race that is prematurely under way—is a reminder of how useless our political system is becoming.

With only a single office on the ballot last week, this could have been a great exercise. There was no vortex of other campaigns setting a tone. There were just four candidates, two major and two minor. The minor candidates were fine. It’s the major candidates who were the problem. If the two of them had relied on themselves, their own smarts and issue positions and local money to communicate to the voters, if they had firmly told their national parties to stay out, all might have been well. Instead, it was just another crappy campaign, with both major party candidates running as Republicans, communicating with voters mostly with TV commercials that are the political equivalent of human bodily waste, tailoring their positions not to their own good judgment but to whatever sells.

And the political parties once again were forcing voters to squeeze their aspirations and hopes through the old, creaking election system that is tied by antiquated Nevada election laws to parties that have long since lost the allegiance of the populace.

In the House race, the Republican Party went to court and prevented any Republicans or Democrats from running unless they were approved by party central governing committees. As a result, of all the Republicans and Democrats who live in House district 2, only two were permitted to appear on the ballot.

In the Senate race, Democrats were also busy limiting voter choices. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid forced Democrat Byron Georgiou out of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in order to protect the candidacy of his favored candidate, Shelley Berkley. This is despite the fact that Reid has often had difficult relations with Berkley while he chose Georgiou to be a member of the national commission that investigated the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. Reid torpedoed Georgiou without apparently seeing the value of a backup candidate in the race, which became abundantly clear 27 days after Georgiou dropped out of the race: The New York Times reported on Berkley’s willingness to use her office to aid her husband’s business.

So we have campaigns that are about as uplifting as illegal toxic waste dumping and the political parties preventing voters from having decent choices, which lead to just about what you would expect—poor candidates and low voter turnouts.

It would be nice if the Nevada Legislature acted on one part of this problem by reforming the election laws to remove the privileged position of political parties. But, after all, that’s not going to happen because the legislators themselves are among those privileged. And even if they did act against their own interests and in favor of the public interest, that would not prevent Reid-type machinations or the intellectually dishonest arguments used in odious political television spots.

Politicians could at least spare us their consistent displays of crocodile tears about the public being so disenchanted that they fail to vote. Failing to vote is not an unreasonable reaction to what our political system has become.