Once they were beheld as prodigies from the minds of superior citizens -- such stars of yesteryear as Robert M. La Follette and Woodrow Wilson. Now they are revealed as hollow shams or, at best, curiosities. Surely soon they will be seen for what they are: catnip from the egotists.
In a political year, progressive reforms from a bygone era are all around us, assumed by the high and mighty as the way things should be. Is there too much money in politics? But of course!
Are the pols being bought off by the vested interests? For a certitude, the giant corporations, the fat cats, the vested interests are flooding the halls of Congress and lesser political venues with cash (never in this list is included the unions, particularly the public-sector unions).
What shall be done about this vast influx of money into politics? Well, though Americans spend more on dog food than on elections, our troubled reformers have a solution. Cut donations to politicians from large donors. Alas, every time they do so, the clever pols -- often, clever reform pols -- find new ways to fund their campaigns.
Most recently this process began with the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, which unconstitutionally limited corporate and union freedom of political speech. So ruled the Supreme Court in its 2010 Citizens United decision.
The eventual result was ever more accountants hired by campaigns and the advent of today's super PACs, which is to say, the political action committees of the present moment that raise and spend large amounts on politics but claim not to be in cahoots with any of the politicians that they favor. Consequently, there is even less accountability by super PACs.
The campaign finance reformers will now go after the super PACs. Some fanciful reform of them will be dreamt up. The pols will again thwart the reform, and the process will continue.
But maybe enough is enough. In truth, the only reform necessary is transparency. If the electorate knows the origins of donations and the direction in which they go, they will know enough about the candidates to cast a sensible vote.
Which brings us to the absurdity of the caucuses and the primaries. Bring back the smoke-filled room! Or at least a room full of Democrats and Republicans who are truly representative of their parties.
Progressives once saw the primary system as the latest advance in the democratic process: Thrust the party bosses aside and let the citizenry vote for the presidential candidates.
The consequence is that the casual voter overwhelms the committed party member -- often the one-issue voter overwhelms the committed party voter with several issues and the good of the party in mind. Large amounts of money go to local media to coax out the casual voter once or twice in an electoral cycle.
The result is that a transient mob -- and sometimes a very small transient mob -- gives us our presidential candidates for the general election: Obama for the Democrats, probably Mitt Romney for the Republicans. In neither case is the candidate a typical Democrat or Republican.
Under the present system of caucus -- and primary-voting, the great states of Iowa and New Hampshire are given disproportionate voice in who will be chosen for the presidential race. Frankly, I like the galoots from Iowa and New Hampshire.
From all I can tell, they look and think pretty much like me, especially on politics. Yet there is something wrong here. I think that way back before the progressives were ever heard of, state conventions made a lot more sense than the present system. As I see it, most Americans are coming to agree.
Examiner Columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.