By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
Although she left us for CNN, frequent viewers of this broadcast remember Campbell Brown fondly, as we all do. Today's welcome bulletin has to do with Campbell and her husband Dan -- they have a magnificent new arrival, Eli James Senor, born just this morning. We were thrilled to hear the news and wish our friends Campbell and Dan just the very best.
Thanks to those of you who joined us for our political coverage on MSNBC today -- it was fun, as it always is, taking the reins for an hour at 1pm Eastern time. My day got compacted from there -- we're crashing on some stories for the top of the broadcast and I'm behind on writing, but Andy Franklin has penned a magnificent political piece below which deserves its own headline:
UNDER THE BIG TOP
The process of choosing a president has become a marathon in this country. All the major candidates declared their intentions months ago, and ever since they've been loudly and busily campaigning, debating, raising money, airing commercials, attacking their opponents, defending their records and positioning themselves for the contests to come. Those contests are now almost upon us: the Iowa caucuses are 16 days away, followed by the New Hampshire primary five days later. Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida follow in quick succession, leading up to February 5th (aka "Super-Duper Tuesday") when 20 -- count 'em -- 20 states have scheduled their contests. The nominations may be settled after all that, but if not, don't worry -- the primary season continues until early June. If things are still up in the air, we can count on the conventions to sort things out. The Democrats hold theirs in Denver in late August, followed by the Republicans in St. Paul in early September. By then we'll finally have just two candidates -- or maybe three, if there's an independent in the race. That's when things get serious -- not that things aren't very serious now, of course. Between the conventions and the election, we'll have about ten weeks of flat-out campaigning, not to mention flat-out campaign coverage. Then, on November 4th, 46 weeks from today, there will be an election. At long last, we'll have a new president. Except we wont; that doesn't actually happen until Inauguration Day, eleven weeks later. At which point the 2012 campaign will begin.
All this has even the most rabid political junkies wondering if perhaps there is a better way. Something a little shorter, perhaps. Less messy, more efficient. No one can doubt that there is room for improvement in the way we choose our presidents. But before we get too crazy, let's also count our blessings. Anyone looking for a shorter, neater, more efficient process need look no further than Russia, our old arch-enemy, where President Vladimir Putin has made that country's fledgling democracy his own personal power source.
Putin became acting president of Russia eight years ago this month, when his predecessor Boris Yeltsin resigned. (They are the only two presidents Russia has ever had). He's been elected twice since, and according to Russia's constitution (adopted in 1993), he cannot run for re-election. But that is apparently no obstacle for Vladimir Putin. Back in October, he floated the idea that he might consider becoming prime minister of Russia after stepping down as president. He let that idea sink in for a while, and then suggested last week that a close aide of his -- Dmitri Medvedev -- succeed him as president. By all accounts, Medvedev -- who has never held elective office -- is entirely the political creation of his patron Putin, and has no power base of his own. Once anointed, Medvedev did not disappoint; he said having Putin as his prime minister was a swell idea. After letting that sink in for a while, Putin said yesterday that yes, he'd be delighted to take the job.
Russia's presidential election is March 2nd, though we're not likely to see any cable-news countdown clocks as that date approaches. Medvedev is a virtual shoo-in, and since his party -- and Putin's -- controls Russia's parliament, they can then pretty much make the prime minister's job -- soon to be Putin's job -- as powerful as they want it to be. (It's now a mostly administrative and relatively powerless position). It's even been speculated that, once elected, Medvedev could step down as president and let his boss have his old job back. Very tidy, but more dictatorial than democratic, and probably not what the framers of Russia's constitution had in mind. We do things differently in this country. It's true, the process here is far from perfect -- it is noisy, dirty, expensive and endless. It often seems to attract the wrong people, and repel the right ones. It can seem like a circus, when a circus is the last thing we need. But it's also worth remembering what Winston Churchill himself said 60 years ago: "Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Or as American parents used to tell their disaffected baby-boomer children back in the days of the Cold War, "If you don't like it here, maybe you'd rather go live in Russia."