America’s perpetual presidential campaign

September 27, 2011


Politically, if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that there’s nothing we can all agree on. But one thing comes close:

The presidential campaign is too darned long.

A couple of years ago, I reread Theodore White’s “The Making of the President, 1960” and was stunned to realize that John F. Kennedy didn’t officially enter the race until Jan. 2, 1960; Richard M. Nixon followed a week later. Both men had been plotting to run for years, but these days, if you waited until January of election year to officially get into the race, you’d be dead on arrival.

These days we have nearly perpetual campaigns. No doubt, there are politicians who already are holding secret meetings to organize their 2016 campaigns. The only break we’re getting this year is that only one party’s nomination is up for grabs.

The British do this right. By law, Parliamentary elections are held on the 17th day after the previous Parliament is dissolved, not counting weekends and holidays. If the United States adopted this timetable, it would be way, way cheaper. We could finance the elections out of public funds, ending the legalized bribery that is the campaign finance system.

We’d compress all the horrible campaign commercials, debates and general backstabbing to roughly the period between the start of the baseball playoffs and the end of the World Series. Think of the peace of mind.

We don’t do it this way because we’ve never done it this way. The current system evolved (if that’s the word) gradually and now is entrenched, supporting an entire class of influential people. The political class is to politics what those birds called “oxpeckers” are to rhinoceroses and water buffaloes: They sit on their backs and dine off the ticks.

Today’s campaigns primarily are a way to transfer money from special interests to local television stations, while feeding a lot of oxpeckers along the way.

A big-bucks donor writes a check, which is spent paying consultants who design the strategy, produce the commercials and buy time in whatever TV market the campaign wants to reach that week. In 2010, an off-year election, mind you, more than $3 billion was spent on political advertising.

Complicit in all of this is my industry, the National Association of Pundits. Most members of NAP are too lazy or too dumb to worry about the complex nuances of public policy. We ought to join the National Association of Turf Writers; clearly we’re more comfortable with horse racing.

Plus, we’re easily distracted. We’re like Dory, the Blue Tangfish with short-term memory problems in “Finding Nemo.” When Marlin the clownfish wants to distract her, he says, “Look! Something shiny!” And off they go.

Consider how all of this is playing out in the recent televised “debates” among half of the 16 declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. You get into the debates only when someone arbitrarily decides you’ve gotten 2 percent to 4 percent in a reliable poll somewhere.

This leaves out my own personal favorite declared GOP candidate, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, with whom I disagree on practically everything except the need to get money out of politics. If he could do that, I’d ignore the fact that it would be weird to have a president named “Buddy” and vote for him anyway. Get money out politics and the rest of the problems would take care themselves.

But Roemer is not something shiny. For that matter, neither is pizza baron Herman Cain or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman or craggy old Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. The word “tarnish” was practically invented for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota had a brief shiny moment that now appears to be over, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has enough money that he can pay people to keep him shiny. The shiny new guy is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, so in the debates everybody picks on him.

The cable networks are helping to sponsor these debates, so they’re long on show-biz effects and short on substance. The NAP members then deconstruct them like they’re reading The Racing Form, forgetting the fact that even the highest-rated debate so far — the Sept. 7 affair during which Perry made his debut — drew only about 8 million viewers.

And unless those viewers live in Iowa or one of the early primary states, it’s unlikely they’ll have a chance to vote for most of these candidates come next January or February; small-state primaries being a separately stupid part of the way America chooses its presidents.

It’s only the most important office in the world. If Americans are to get the government we deserve, we need to fix the way we fill it.

— Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His email address is khorrigan@post-dispatch.com.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps it would be best for all of us if our elected officials would stay at the work place instead of flying to anywhere chasing stinky special interest dollars.

How about if they stay at the work place and take care of business? instead of chasing special interest dollars!

How about if they stay in the work place and read the legislation they vote on? instead of chasing special interest dollars!

How about if they stay at the work place and cut wayyyyyy back on travel expenses? instead of chasing special interest dollars!

How about they stay at the work place and cut off special interest financing of our elections? instead of chasing those stinky special interest dollars!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

Day in and day out our elected officials spend hours each day campaigning for campaign dollars. When they take time out to make a speech and/or attend luncheons etc etc etc this is campaigning for money. Let's not pretend only the presidential race is on the clock 24/7.

Think about all of special interest money that is involved to keep these campaigns afloat that which buy the politician.

Think about the elected officials running for office while on the tax dollar payrolls.

One answer to problems such as this: CUT OFF special interest financing of elections! YES even at the local level.

Our government is always claiming the USA is about democracy. In that case allow the citizens to practice democracy by allowing citizens to vote on these issues in 2012:

Let's demand a new system and vote in Fair Vote America : http://www.fairvote.org/irv/ Demand a change on the next ballot.

Let's have public financing of campaigns. Citizens cannot afford special interest money campaigns for it is the citizens that get left out. Let citizens vote on this issue. http://www.publicampaign.org/

Bribery of elected officials is the most stinky of all bribery!

Flap Doodle 6 years, 8 months ago

Where have we seen those same links before? Oh, wait, right here on this award-winning website! Dozens and dozens of time.

tomatogrower 6 years, 8 months ago

Oh my god!!! This columnist has the solution! I am so sick of all of these career politicians. They no longer serve the country. They serve themselves and their big contributors. The problem is the power to change it are in the hands of the people who profit from it. I am so sick of these phony patriots. They could care less about the United States, their state, or their town.

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