The Possible Perks of a Shorter Election Season

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We're more than a year from the presidential election — but already exhausted. Here's why we should follow France and Australia in capping campaign time.
We’re more than a year from the presidential election — but already exhausted. Here’s why we should follow France and Australia in capping campaign time.

The American election season is comedy gold. The gaffes, inconsistencies, pandering to the base, outright lies and fumbled speeches make for a rip-roaring good time when it comes to tickling our collective political funny bones. (That almost sounds obscene). The problem is that even though the exact dialogue to this election cycle’s scripts hasn’t been confirmed as of yet, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a very, very long story that we’ve all heard before.

I’d happily trade in all of those laughs and media sound bites — both cynical and heartfelt — for a much shorter election season.

While piling ridicule upon politicians is nothing new and often serves as a wonderful catharsis for the democratic electorate (“At least we’re better than those clowns”), I worry that if we vent all of our pent-up political frustrations through our sarcastic (or vitriolic) relief valves, our collective “Let’s get some shit done” mojo will evaporate in the electoral wind.

The political process can feel preposterous at times, yet if we acquiesce to easily as to just how stupid it can be, that gives license to stupid people and evil geniuses to keep on doing — and get away with doing — stupid things.

For example, a fairly broad consensus exists as to the absurdity of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which, in essence, lets corporations, unions and other deep-pocketed organizations bombard politician campaigns with an almost unlimited amount of money. This idea was brilliantly (or foolishly, depending on your perspective) summed up by Mitt Romney’s comment, “Corporations are people, my friend.”

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Lots of folks talk about campaign finance reform, and the burdens placed upon politicians, not to mention the leverage held over them, who have to constantly beg for more and more money to keep up with the mountains of corporate cash infused into our campaign system. Vice President Joe Biden has predicted that as much as “$2 billion per candidate” will be spent in the next election. Even if the sums don’t get quite that high, I doubt massive amounts of green in politics will be going anywhere anytime soon.

In Australia, federal election campaigns last only six weeks, and everyone over the age of 18 is required to vote. In France, candidates only have two weeks to campaign before the first round of balloting, and there are strict prohibitions against media ads and political posters three months before ballots are cast. While these systems aren’t perfect, I suspect they do less damage to the character of a nation (especially in the age of social media) than the enormous amount of time candidates (and rich donors) invest in the American system, so full of primaries, delegate selection, caucuses, citizen voting and the Electoral College. Months and years are needed to sort through this process, not weeks.

If we could somehow trim down the length of our campaign seasons, we could perhaps limit the influence of money on campaigns by giving the biggest players less time to buy elections. A shorter election spectacular might also help reduce some of the more soap-operatic media elements of campaigns by limiting coverage to how a certain candidate would govern, rather than his or her sex life. (I don’t care who they’re bonking, as long as it isn’t a Russian spy, and they can still govern effectively.) When time is precious, the population would be more invested (hopefully) in a potential leader’s credentials, instead of his or her wardrobe, cosmetic surgery or lack there of, holiday destinations or music preferences. Shorter elections would also mean more time for the news to, you know, actually cover the news (gasp) — rather than a candidate’s particular meal choice on any given day.

And finally, a shorter and somewhat modified election season would let our chosen officials (the good ones and the bad ones) focus on something other than the drudge of funding and going through yet another grueling election. What’s that, you might be wondering? Why, good governance, of course! Look it up if you’ve completely forgotten what that is in the haze of the never-ending election cycle.

Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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