Quit Whining About the Long Presidential Campaign
We’re in the home stretch of the presidential campaign. And that means it’s time for everyone to complain about how long American presidential campaigns take.
The New York Times’ Emma Roller counts 597 days between Ted Cruz’s launch and Election Day, and suggests that “the campaign’s seeming interminability may even have led some campaign observers to contemplate the cool embrace of the void.” The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby declared that “the grueling, despair-inducing length of American presidential campaigns” can “make children cry,” pointing to a 2012 viral video of a tearful child sick of listening to “Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney.” Both pined for the forcibly shorter election seasons in countries like Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Mexico that take 90 days or less.
The allusion to a crying child is apt – because those who whine about how long it takes to properly practice democracy are acting like a bunch of babies.
There is no serious case that the length of the presidential campaign harms our ability to choose our leaders wisely. The implicit argument is that long elections fail to entertain us properly. Somehow, despite our ability to rot our brains with an infinite number of TV channels, web videos and cat GIFs at our fingertips, we demand the reality TV show otherwise known as the presidential campaign be cancelled as soon as possible.
My fellow Americans, I’m so terribly sorry that our elections are so boring. But there’s this thing called “vetting,” and you’ll be sorry if we don’t do more of it.
If our election season were only 45 days, Donald Trump might already be president before anyone could learn about his egregious flip-flops and dubious business endeavors. Ross Perot, whose 1992 campaign theme song was “Crazy,” was briefly the frontrunner and could have snuck in as well on a wave of his own money.
“Pretty much everything that's rotten with presidential campaigns — from the obscene sums spent by candidates to the relentless character-assassination of political ads — is a function of their interminable length,” argues Jacoby. But that doesn’t wash. Campaigns could still raise tons of money and saturate the airwaves and the Internet with low blows in a shortened election season. We would just have less time to fact-check them.
Jacoby, a staunch conservative who supports the Citizens United ruling on free speech grounds, probably wouldn’t like how some other countries cleanse their campaigns. Great Britain, for example, bans paid TV ads and the government instead allocates free TV time to the major parties.
Moreover, it’s completely disingenuous to compare America’s presidential election season to states with parliamentary systems. The political parties in those countries typically select their leaders years before elections are called – and not in small-d democratic primaries where the entirety of the nation’s electorate has an opportunity to decide on their choices. The party leaders then square off inside their respective parliaments day after day. British “Question Time” is just non-stop political campaigning and theatrics, dressed up as legislative debate, for years until the next election is scheduled.
That is, when there is an election at all. The Brits just changed prime ministers without a single voter casting a ballot. David Cameron resigned, and Theresa May claimed the top spot strictly through palace intrigue. The number of formal campaign days: zero.
Meanwhile Australia has had four prime ministers in the last six years, as both major parties have ousted their own leaders in internal coups – the Labor Party twice and the Liberals once. The result has been unstable government and weak leadership. These are the systems America should emulate?
Mexico has a presidential system, but its electoral system is hardly superior to ours. For decades, Mexico had one-party rule, and presidents handpicked their successors via el dedazo (“the tap of a finger”). Multi-party democracy has flourished in recent years, but a system of presidential primaries is not enshrined in law and not universally practiced. And while the general election season is legally mandated to be short, the jockeying for party nominations and moves toward independent candidacies in the 2018 presidential election began last year. “Think the U.S. presidential campaign is long? Look at Mexico,” reported McClatchy in June 2015.
Instead of whining about the length of the American presidential season, use your time wisely. Sure, there is a surfeit of cheap shots on the stump and pundit blather on the TV that you don’t need to hear for another day. But have you finished reading all 112,735 words in Hillary Clinton’s policy proposals? I bet you haven’t even gotten to Trump’s 9,000 words.
So hurry up. You’ve wasted 539 days obsessively watching all the things you claim to despise, and you have only 58 days left.