I'm so absolutely sickened by the way Presidential politics are in this country. Is this really a democracy? Are we really choosing the President? This is a major frustration point every election.
First of all, we are absolutely limited to the two parties. They've got the money, the organization, and the media. The parties, with the media, have completely shut out any other candidates. The media declares, "They're not viable." Well, of course they're not. If you don't get any media exposure, the only way to get it is to spend insane amounts of money to buy the exposure, a la Ross Perot. Without the exposure, they won't register on opinion polls (which is another problem), and are then, magically, not viable.
So, accepting that we have a two party system, what about the way candidates are selected in the primaries? If you don't get solid support in Iowa and New Hampshire, you're done. These are rural states with a total of 11 (eleven) (XI) (xB) (b1011) (o13) of the 538 electoral votes! Why do these states get this much power? How about a single-day, national primary, with a majority vote required to carry a state? If you don't get a majority, take the top three or four and have a run off. If you still don't have a majority, have one more run off with the top two.
The conventions - what a joke! At one point, these served a purpose. Now, it's just a three day media whoring event. They should be done away with or at least considered irrelevant to media coverage. It's an excuse to rent arenas, wear stupid hats, spout your propaganda, and mud rake the opponent.
Negative campaigning - you know, it's OK to go negative about a candidate's positions and OK to highlight pertinent things about a candidate's past. That's legitimate. I want to hear what a candidate plans to do, but they can also separate themselves based on the other candidate. What drives me crazy is the lying, the half truths, and the outright smears. If a candidate voted against a bill in Congress because it had blackmail pork tied to it, that doesn't mean the candidate is an enemy of the main intent of the bill. To imply it is dishonest. If he voted for something, that doesn't mean he's the champion for it either.
Associations - This is a part of negative campaigning. Obama is getting creamed with this one right now. I don't know what his associations were with various people, but politicians schmooze with all sorts. They get money from all sorts. To get to the position of party nominee, they've probably sold most of their soul to the devil by that point. Exaggerations and unfounded implications are dishonest and sensationalist propaganda.
The problem is that all of this stuff works. The machine seems to be OK with the selection process and negative campaigning works. People allow themselves to be corralled into the two party system and the process has polarized them. The other side is a bunch of irrational, evil people. The American public seems to have no idea the degree in which they're being manipulated.