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A different kind of ‘Madness’

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, March 30, 2004

It’s no secret that for the past two weeks, our nation’s efficiency has plummeted to Communism-like levels thanks to a widespread, obsessive-compulsive addiction to the NCAA tournament. During the first-round weekday games, classrooms appeared uncharacteristically empty, office desks were littered with doodled-on brackets and rumor has it Hilary Clinton even forced Congress to temporarily suspend deliberation in order to watch twelfth-seeded Manhattan knock off fifth-seeded Florida so that she could playa-hate on Florida Senator Bob Graham.

Clearly, America is infatuated with tournaments. Whether it’s the unparalleled raw emotion of watching a favorite team emerge victorious in the final seconds of a game, the sheer excitement of witnessing a seemingly-impossible upset or even the prospect of winning both cash and bragging rights for filling out the most accurate bracket in a pool, only a tournament can cause both a New York lawyer and a Montana farmer to simultaneously scream at a referee from their sofas for calling a charge against Zakee Wadood of East Tennessee State.

With this inexplicable phenomenon in mind, I see no reason why this passion for upsets, brackets and all things tournament cannot be transferred to other aspects of life that everyday Americans simply do not find interesting enough to spend hours glued to the television watching, namely, the Democratic presidential primaries.

Sure, the results of these events were of the utmost importance and always seemed to merit the front page of next-day newspapers, but who can admit to having gone to such extremes as checking live exit polls from the Iowa caucuses on their cell phone in the middle of chemistry class? And how many people skipped classes on Super Tuesday to constantly monitor the CNN news ticker for live updates of John Edwards’ voting totals in California? Most likely, unless your Deadhead parents thought it would be funny to name you Wolf Blitzer, you did not go to these seemingly insane ends that are actually quite customary in the world of college basketball.

In more practical terms, one only needs to look at the peculiar pattern of voter preference during the primaries to realize that some changes should be in order. For months, the raw idealistic nature of Howard Dean’s campaign mounted him securely atop the field of contenders, only to have all that come crashing down because a few corn farmers in Iowa were not particularly fond of his personality. Likewise, in nearly every state primary that followed, voters seemed to nonchalantly jump onto the John Kerry bandwagon because of his Iowa success, even though many Americans never truly clicked with Kerry as they had with Dean or even with the presidential-looking John Edwards. Unfortunately, Kerry’s momentum had become irreversible, and America’s Democrats found themselves stuck with a guy whose campaign was partly funded by a hot dog condiment.

How, then, can America spice up the primary process enough to attract the constant attention of the electorate? A tournament, of course! The process would probably proceed as follows:

Sometime around Christmas, CNN would publish a printable bracket complete with seedings of the top Democratic contenders. This past year’s tournament would probably have involved Dean taking home the number one seed, setting him up to play the winner of the play-in primary between eighth-seeded Dennis Kucinich and ninth-seeded Carol Moseley Braun. On the other side of the bracket, Kerry, the number two seed, would have started with a match-up against America’s favorite underdog, seventh-seeded Al Sharpton. In the more evenly matched head-to-head primaries, third-seeded Dick Gephardt would have squared off against sixth-seeded John Edwards, and fourth-seeded Wesley Clark would have duked it out mano a mano with fifth-seeded Joe Lieberman.

Just imagine the buzz that would have generated amidst the American public as they furiously filled out brackets with their favorite picks to enter into office pools or Yahoo! online fantasy presidential primary tournaments. You can even picture the conversations.

“Should I go with the Sharpton over Kerry upset?” “No way! That primary is being played in Massachusetts! Sharpton doesn’t stand a chance against Kerry’s home crowd!” “Well, Anderson Cooper likes Edwards over Gephardt, so I’m going with him on that one.” “Not a bad pick. Edwards has a great RPI. So who do you have in your Final Four?” “I’m going with Kerry, Edwards, Dean and Lieberman, with Dean pulling it off in the end.”

March Madness? More like Presidential Primary Psychosis! By setting up the primaries as a tournament-style series of head-to-head matchups, interest in the currently tiresome election process will increase a thousand-fold. The same allure that draws fans to NCAA basketball – brackets, upsets, buzzer-beaters, Bill Raftery and gambling – will certainly elicit the same response in the world of American politics.

Now if only we could get the University of Texas cheerleaders on board …

Joey Falco is a freshman Spanish and political science major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at jfalco@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.