You can find a hundred definitions of politics in at least that many textbooks, but most folks simply assume that they know what the word means and that the person they are communicating with embraces the same definition. That's always a bad initial premise.
It turns out to be simple: Politics is process.
For my purposes, politics is the process by which societies do five essential things.
- Choose their leader
- Make their rules
- Set their priorities
- Allocate their limited resources
- Resolve their disputes
If you look at it globally, you can see that all societies have a process for those functions. If we examine it from the viewpoint of Madisonian democracy we can relate number 1and 2 to the executive branch; number 2, 3, and 4 to the legislative branch; and number 5 to the judiciary. The rule making is shared between executive and legislative and refereed by our judiciary.
Ask the students how we in America choose our president and inevitably they will say we elect him. Which isn't constitutionally correct. Nothing in the US Constitution says a word about electing the executive. No mention of any citizens voting in an election. That is when we can begin to speak of process.
The process is playing out and we should appreciate how long, tedious and convoluted it is by now. The candidates have been fund-raising, speechifying, posturing, strategizing and imaging themselves for more than a year now. The media have been hyping the horse-race and breathlessly describing each blow of the battle as the potential knock-out.
Yesterday in Florida really finished it up, didn't it? That is what they wanted you to believe. But this morning we start to read the reality of what remains and suddenly the convolution of the process begins to sink in.
The Republican convention will have about 2300 delegates from the states. To gain the nomination a candidate will have to gain a majority. That's 1144 or so. And after these four critical state races and tens of millions of dollars and endless hours of debates and analysis, we've decided about 80 of those! The majority came from the winner-take-all bundle of Florida. In the context of giant steps toward an assured nomination, we've gotten halfway across the front porch but haven't yet knocked on the door.
Ron Paul is employing a caucus strategy. His loyal and largely less immature supporters are exactly what sways a caucus. Caucus states are easily controlled by small, organized and dedicated attendees. The catch is that less than a dozen states use a caucus and the states that do don't swing large numbers of delegates. Ron Paul conceivably will build a list of states which he has won, but really won't demonstrate a huge tally of votes at the convention. Will that give him a platform input for the party? My bet is maybe a perfunctory nod, but not much in the way of substantial planks.
Gingrich has shown himself to be increasingly erratic, overly sensitive to criticism, and apparently quite hypocritical in terms of saying one thing and doing another. He is accused of being a Washington insider and he is proving it in the public eye by his willingness to dissemble on the clear intent of his actions. A third resurgence in popularity in the coming states is not impossible, but is increasingly unlikely.
Romney has cash in hand, boots on the ground, and may be gradually sucking the air out of the campaign. He appears to be slowly picking up the less adamant of the "anybody but Mitt" voters. The media are gradually resurrecting the Mormon issue. It is irrelevant, but like race in American politics, non-mainstream religion can be a factor. Maybe we have outgrown it. Will Romney lose votes with his scorched earth mud-slinging super-PAC? That's the tender spot for many, including me.
Santorum now is in a position to compete. He has shown a bit of aggressiveness, but not enough to damage his demeanor as a serious and presidential personality. He hasn't stumbled and it is a real scramble to dig up a smear that sticks to him. The real question for Rick is whether he can get adequate organization and sufficient funding to spread his message across the heavy first two weeks of March. Nothing really happens for the rest of February, but Super Tuesday in early March will probably be the break point.
Open primaries, closed primaries, caucus states, proportional delegates and bloc voting, all demonstrate that politics is process. And the process we use to choose our leader is a very complex one.