It seems that the madness of the ever-creeping-forward primary and caucus schedule for 2008 keeps growing and growing. Iowa is likely to move their caucus forward from 14 January to 7 January, with this move coming after California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Hampshire, and many other states have all moved their primaries or caucuses forward.

The pushing forward of these elections is a serious and dangerous trend facing American politics. Gone are the days of the so-called “retail” politics, where candidates literally meet as many voters as possible in the early primary states. This system was allowed to flourish because the primaries were spread-out over several months.

Today, though, candidates must engage in “wholesale” politics, where instead of having face-to-face meetings in voters’ living rooms, candidates must spend their resources on tv, radio, and internet ads, both positive and negative, in order to reach as many voters as possible in the shortened primary season. More ads means the candidates have to raise more money; more money needed means candidates have to start campaigning earlier and earlier, hence the absurdly early presidential race we currently are trudging through.

Not only does the shortened, front-loaded system of today increase the money necessary to mount a presidential campaign, it discourages and almost inhibits anyone who is not either financially well-connected or personally well-off. Are these the people we necessarily want running the government?

In addition, the front-loaded system perpetuates a never-ending, vicious, distracting, and otherwise excruciatingly-too-long general campaign that is far more likely to turn-off voters than it is to engage them. Next year, by the end of February, over 30 states will have held their primary or caucus. That means that in both parties, the presidential nominee will have been unofficially chosen. That means that the 2008 general election campaign will last from March to November. That means that if one or both of the major parties’ candidates falter during the general election campaign or the party has second thoughts on their choice, it will be too late to choose someone else.

If American voters are already apathetic towards politics, next year will only serve to drive them further away from caring who is elected. Can America afford this? Can the future of our democracy afford this? Can the rest of the world afford this?

Something needs to be done, and it needed to be done yesterday. An astronomical 84% of eligible voters in France voted last month in the French presidential primary. In the United States, 60% voted for president in 2004, 54% in 2000. If we worry about voter turnout, a front-loaded, national primary-esque system is not the answer. The political system has gone for a long walk off a short pier, and it has taken the rest of us with it.