With the passing of Labor Day comes the unofficial start of the 2008 presidential campaign season – or it would have, if not for the absolutely insane primary we are experiencing. Trademarks of our national election process have always been its chaotic nature, general unpredictability and surprise candidates. This year represents a swing to the extreme, destroying the few edicts that had previously been relied upon.

The sheer amount of money that has been raised thus far in the cycle is unprecedented. Howard Dean was considered a revolutionary fund-raiser when he raised $50 million during the entire 2004 primary. Dean’s monumental number, the highest ever recorded by a Democrat, was passed before the end of this June, a full seven months before the first primary election, by more than one candidate. The race now features nearly 20 members from both parties vying for the two nominations.

Pundits point to the overwhelming dissatisfaction with President Bush and to the lack of an established front-runner from either party in the form of a sitting President or Vice as the cause of this overwhelming number of individuals. Whatever the source, the result is clear: we are living through a Presidential primary race unlike any ever previously seen.

The traditional primary calendar has even been discarded. In an attempt to add more regional and ethnic diversity to the race, the Nevada caucus was thrown in between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, the traditional first-in-the-nation contests. The South Carolina primary was also moved forward, making it the fourth contest, and the first in the south. These four states were supposed to hold the first bout Monday, Jan. 14, and the last on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Immediately following them, on Feb. 5, nearly two dozen other states would hold their contests. This calendar would have been unlike any other in history. It would have been unique in structure, in its early start and its regional diversity, but it didn’t last. Florida and Michigan both moved their dates up, forcing similar reactionary move-ups from South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire. There is now the possibility of a nominating contest in December.

It is important, in this commotion, to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the issues in this election. As a country, we are bogged down in a failing foreign war, facing energy and health care crises and desperately in need of education, immigration and budget reform. I moved to New Hampshire for the primary on July 1. Since then, the daily visits by presidential hopefuls, and news coverage which is already dominated by the primary battle, has forced a realization of the magnitude of these issues.

There is magic in encounters with presidential candidates, watching voters challenge them on the domestic and international issues dominating the race. The candidates have an aura surrounding them. Not only have nearly all of them accomplished great things, held powerful elected positions and negotiated with foreign dictators, but in just a few months, one may be the President of the United States, the most powerful person in the world.

Change is good for the political system. Chaos keeps the hacks and talking heads on their toes and keeps the race exciting and new. But some things are best staying the same. It is vital that with all the newness we don’t overlook the purpose: not to raise money or jigger the calendar for victory, but to unite the nation behind a central figure – for the would-be president to spend months winning the trust of the American people, earning their vote.

I am living with four men, veterans of every war and military conflict since World War II. On Sept. 22, one will be leaving for Iraq, returning there only a month and 19 days after he arrived home. My proximity to the candidates and my personal connections obviously are shaping my views, but I cannot stress the magnitude of the decision that lies in our immediate future. This is an historic election for any number of reasons, and I urge everyone to become involved.

The next opportunity to alter so entirely the direction our nation is headed may not come in our lifetime.

Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.



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