The current political campaign may seem to be overstaying its welcome, a Franklin fish past its three days, but we’ve a long way to go yet. Our four-year cycle uses up fully half that time in full-blown battle mode, and the rest of it in clandestine cajoling and fundraising among nascent super pacs. The long run to office is long bemoaned. Many have wishes to change the system to a more truncated, less expensive one, modeled on European elections. Campaigns over there are limited by the amounts and origins of money spent, and usually confined, as in the U.K., for instance, to publicly (and modestly) financed affairs of around six months in duration.
The removal of money as influence from politics, generally, has wide support and that is justly so. Even incremental changes in that direction would do wonders for American voters worried about the influence special interests might buy. Large contributions to politicians in need of cash to finance their candidacies leaves little room but for suspicion. The recent surges of the Trump and Sanders campaigns show how tolerance has lessened for candidates that are perceived as owing favors to corporate and institutional contributors. The disdain for this part of our system is decades old and shows no sign of ebbing.
The prospect of shorter campaigns, however, is one where voters’ attitudes might have evolved. This country is so big, so diverse and complex, and so wrought with responsibilities to its citizens and to the world, that candidates for its top offices are given second, third, and forth vetting by its voters. Through living room teas, and town hall meetings, through candidate forums and partisan debates, through caucuses and primaries, conventions, and nominee’s debates, countless questions are answered about the several men and women vying for a single office. This is, and needs to be, a particularly American sequence of events. The enormity of the American presidency means that the voters should be given every opportunity to get a long look at the candidates for that office.
The media age provides easy video access to even mundane political events. However, the voters’ ability to glean information about candidates is muted by the candidates’ knowledge of that ability. The modern, scripted candidate is built to withhold information, stay on message, defy the media accessibility that voters once thought would be a key to informed choices. Under the regime of the political handlers, more access often means less real information.
Because of the tension between the withholders of information and those who wish to be informed, the long run of American political campaigns has become a function unto itself. The extended period of exposure to media coverage and voter scrutiny is now the best tool the populace has against the tendency among the national campaigns to obfuscate or outright lie. Even without taking an investigative stance toward the candidates, a voter given time to think might change his or her mind, find a better fit, and do so before it is too late. To this end, it should be remembered that if elections were shorter affairs, Ed Muskie, John Connally, Rudi Guiliani, and Scott Walker might have reached the office they coveted. All of these candidates’ hopes faded as voters, over time, moved on to another. Without long campaigns, busy Americans might be forced to settle for their first suitors.
In 2008, Sarah Palin’s campaign staff wondered if their candidate was intellectually and emotionally prepared to be Vice President, and took great lengths to hide the truth of Palin’s limitations from the country. The long run of that campaign created space within which the truth could be searched for and exposed to public scrutiny. Without making judgments as to the fault for Palin’s limitations, it is clear that they predated her elevation, and that they were exposed simply because the voters had the time to see them.
So settle in, we haven’t even gotten to Super Tuesday yet…
– Danny Grosso