Maybe Howard Dean hasn’t wrapped up the Democratic nomination after all. Still, am I wrong to think that our election process is speeding up? It used to be that New Hampshire had vastly disproportionate influence. Then Iowa stole a march on New Hampshire and became an important part of the picture. But now, the whole thing may have been decided before a single vote was cast in either Iowa or New Hampshire–and in a year when the nomination was heavily contested. How could an underdog come so far without a single vote having been cast? I suppose this speeding-up effect can be attributed to the Internet, which has been so important to Dean, and which has pushed news cycles to speeds beyond anything imagined even a decade ago. Or am I wrong here? Are there historical precedents for hotly contested nomination contests being resolved very quickly–almost before the primaries? (Muskie’s crying?) I don’t know, but I rather suspect we’re seeing something unusual here–something rooted in the electorate’s strong polarization, and in our Internet, polling, and cable-based instant news cycle. Is all this good for democracy? Well, Dean has certainly inspired the grass roots, but we’re also seeing a relatively small group gain disproportionate power. That’s not unusual in itself (as I noted in my earlier post), but the Net may be pushing the process to an extreme, and that may be a matter for concern. Are primaries themselves becoming outdated? Or is it really just the polarization of the country that’s at work here, more than any changes wrought by the Internet, the news cycle, or polling? I think we’ll be contemplating these questions for a while.