You’ve probably noticed a relatively new phenomenon in American politics: The Never-Ending Presidential Campaign. (Might make a good animated flick, eh?)
And you’ve likely thought Gee, this has been going on for-evuh. Well, it has: The 2008 presidential election campaign began as the mid-term elections ended in 2006. By February of the next year, look at all the Democrats who had tossed in the proverbial hat â€” Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Chris Dodd, former Sen. John Edwards, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Barack Obama, Gov. Bill Richardson, Gov. Tom Vilsack and former Sen. Mike Gravel. All but two were sitting governors or members of Congress.
And the Republicans: Sen. John McCain, Sen. Sam Brownback, former Gov. Jim Gilmore, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Duncan Hunter, three-time Senate race loser Alan Keyes, Rep. Ron Paul, former Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Tom Tancredo, and the Thompson twins, former Sen. Fred and former Gov. Tommy. All but seven were sitting office holders.
This invites comment along the lines of Good god, what have we wrought? regarding Big Money and Running for a New Job While Not Doing the Current Job.
The Big Money.
All have bowed out but three â€” but not before all these presidential candidates had raised more than $935 million. (Perhaps the name of that animated film ought to be The Never-Ending Presidential Fundraising Campaign.)
By the time Sens. Clinton, Obama and McCain finish duking it out â€” and even if the last two standing agree to accept matching public funds for the general election â€” campaign contributors will have shelled out more than one billion dollars to elect the Leader of the Free World.
So what’d we get for the money?
â€¢ An apparently endless torrent of political junk mail via direct mail and e-mail.
â€¢ Nearly $5 billion in total political advertising in 2008 alone, according to a Lehman Brothers report. (PACs, 527s, special-interest groups and national and state campaign committees buy advertising independent of the candidates’ campaigns, hence the higher total.)
â€¢ The continued compilation of Americans’ voting records and personal information in databases controlled by the Democratic and Republican national committees, reducing us to heavily sorted bits of data rather than thinking, feeling human beings.
â€¢ A total of 35 mud-slinging, barb-tossing, highly scripted, media-biased, barely revealing primary-season presidential candidate debates (19 Democratic, 16 Republican), compared with two Democratic primary debates in 2004 and three Republican primary debates in 2000.
â€¢ Daily appointment viewing for political TV shows, such as CNN’s 8 p.m. (ET) Election Center, Fox’s 5 p.m. America’s Election HQ and sundry others that feature unrevealing, horse-race-trending, pointless-counterpointless, he-said she-said, confrontational interviews.
Running for a New Job While Not Doing the Current Job
Of the 21 primary presidential contenders, 12 candidates were or are sitting members of Congress or governors. How did that dozen do the jobs they were elected to while running full time for another job, namely the presidency?
If you are a resident of Illinois, Arizona or New York (which I am), how well are you being served by Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton? Yes, they have large Washington, D.C., and local staffs, but given the demands of their campaigns, how can these three senators possibly be fully engaged with the affairs of the states they represent â€” and with the people who elected them to do that? These senators are paid six-figure salaries by the public. Why don’t more people demand that they do the jobs we elected them to do?
Imagine this possibility: We elect Sen. X president. When the run-up to the mid-term elections in 2010 begins, we’re told (by favorability polls, of course, and the media), that President X isn’t up to the job. Candidates in President X’s party decide to oppose the president in the primaries.
Now, that hasn’t happened very often. Ronald Reagan challenged the unelected President Ford in 1976. Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged President Carter in 1980. Pat Buchanan mounted a rather weak challenge to President Bush I in 1992.
But given the divisive atmosphere in American politics, the next president should know he or she is on a short leash. Fix the economy, settle Iraq, and quickly, please. And, dammit, get those gasoline prices down pronto! If President X fails to do so in two years, he or she should could face a serious challenge requiring him or her to face 50 primaries. Given the dozens of candidates in this election season, it’s possible some will remain sufficiently ambitious to take on a sitting president.
If that happens, how will President X actually do the job he or she was elected to do if tasked with running around the nation electioneering and fundraising?
It would be messy. The price tag of The Never-Ending Presidential Fundraising Campaign would make this year’s almost-a-billion seem laughable. Government would barely function. The media would make oodles of money from ads. And we’d get lots more junk mail.
If this is the political landscape you’d like to maintain for the United States and its people, then sit back and do nothing. Say nothing. Allow the monied interests to continue to fund an inherently corrupt system inexpertly overseen by the Federal Election Commission. Let the media tell you what you ought to think about. Let polls direct you to The Important Issues.
That’s it. Just stop thinking. Relax. Just turn on the TV …