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Presidential elections have become an obscene morass of money, negativism

Myles SpicerMyles Spicer

The “silly season” is now upon us, and the American electorate will have to endure months of that deadly quadrennial activity we call: presidential elections! Our presidential elections have degenerated into an obscene morass of money, personal attacks and negativism. No wonder the public has so little regard for government.

Worse yet, the trend seems to be a further decline each election cycle, and amelioration or improvement is nowhere in sight. The reasons are many, but they are worth examining if positive change is to be made.

  1. The length of our campaigns is outrageously long. No other developed country has anything near our multiyear campaigning with extended primaries, caucuses, debates, and general maneuvering.  In January of 2010, the London Guardian published this quote about the length of the English election process: “Over the years, Margaret Thatcher was wrong about a lot of things. One thing she got right, however, was the length of British general election campaigns. ‘Three weeks is long enough,’ she pronounced in 1997.”  Though the British have parliamentary elections, her surmise is quite apt. Similarly, in Canada, the length of election campaigns can vary, but under the Elections Act, the minimum length of a campaign is 36 days. The longest campaign ever (1926) was only 74 days.  Again, in Australia, upon dissolution of Parliament, writs are issued for nominations within 10 days; and the total length of the election process is generally about 68 days start to finish.
  2. We are now swimming in an obscenity of money and campaign financing. It does not make for better campaigns – it makes them worse. We are now in an era of media sound bites and 30 second attack ads – not genuine positive ideas to make our country run better. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision may go down as the worst (and most damaging) reading of law in modern history – it has changed our electoral landscape for the worse, possibly forever.
  3. Voter ID law changes (and related state constitutional amendments) are culling registration and participation in a way that will subtly discourage voter interest and involvement in the election process. Indeed,  America already has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any developed country: about 60 percent in the 2008 election. By contrast, Denmark, which has much shorter campaigns and prohibits campaign TV ads, in a recent election had an 87 percent turnout (virtually every European country gets over 80 percent participation).
  4. The power of the political fringes has increased to a level where accommodation, compromise, progress and action is paralyzed. This is especially true among the Republicans; and although the far right candidates eventually dropped out after the primaries and caucuses, Mitt Romney (the presumptive winner) had to pledge his fidelity to the right wing base so vigorously, that he eventually became “one of them.”
  5. Finally, the temper of presidential campaigns has become so negative, it not only turns off the public from participation, but more importantly sheds far more heat than light on which direction(s) will benefit America best as we move forward into an increasingly complex world. While neither candidate has really articulated comprehensive programs concerning vital issues – particularly the economy – President Barack Obama at least has a record to run on. Romney, however, has invested virtually all his campaign time telling us what is wrong with Obama, rather than what is right about his plans and programs. Without knowing that, the public may be buying into an administration that could prove a disastrous choice for our country. We deserve better.

In America, the length of the campaigns, the frequency of primary debates, and the outrageous costs have deadened the voters to connecting with the issues, and engaging in the process.  Then, of course, there is the time our president (and candidates) spend campaigning rather than governing.  

In a sense, we have relegated ourselves to elections in which it is too often said: “Who cares?” Well, we should care. We must care if we truly want better government. And making our elections shorter, less costly, and more positive would be a vital first step.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/30/2012 - 12:11 pm.

    Nowadays it’s a perpetual election cycle

    I remember the day after Obama’s inauguration reading news reports quoting Republicans already talking about making him a “one term president” and others recruiting Palin to begin organizing her own presidential campaign.

    It’s no wonder our lawmakers are paralyzed – they are constantly in “campaign mode” – afraid to do anything lest it will cost them votes. And Republicans are afraid to grant Obama anything he might be able to claim success at, even if it would be good for the country. The whole thing has turned into an abomination, and I’m not sure what it will take to break the never-ending cycle.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/30/2012 - 01:31 pm.

    I disagree

    1. Short election campaigns are only possible with an informed electorate. It’s obvious that even months into the campaign many people have no idea what the candidates stand for or what they’ve accomplished. I could provide you with links to several YouTube videos of man-on-the-street interviews that illustrate the total ignorance of Americans of voting age. People like Jay Leno do it for laughs but I find it pathetic when alleged citizens can’t name the vice president or even one supreme court justice. A shorter campaign won’t fix that.

    2. Campaign finance reform should have been named the “incumbent protection act” because limiting campaign spending limited the challenger’s opportunity to get his message out. In the Citizen’s United case, the supreme court stated the obvious: the government has no more right to tell a citizen how much money he can contribute or tell a politician how much money he can spend to convince voters of the worthiness of his ideas and his candidacy than it can tell a newspaper how many pages it can print or how much money it can spend on ink and newsprint. Political speech is free speech. But unfortunately, TV ads are expensive and you’re limiting a candidate’s political speech when you limit his spending on ads.

    3. If voter ID laws do have the effect of reducing the number of votes cast, so what? The objective should not be 100% of resident participation, it should be 100% of informed, engaged, taxpaying, legal citizen participation. Citizens have a right to know that their vote wasn’t canceled out by an uninformed, disengaged, ward of the state, non-citizen. Who voted twice.

    4. There’s nothing wrong with hearing from the “political fringes,” whoever that is. A healthy democracy hears and welcomes ALL points of view … to consider, compare and contrast and even to ridicule, if you’re so inclined. Contrary to their opposite ideologies, the real power and legitimacy of free markets and capitalism is consumer choice. Give them the widest possible selection and let the people decide. That’s the power of democracy too.

    5. Finally, regarding your claim that the candidates, especially Romney hasn’t adequately communicated his plans, I would suggest that your arguments of shorter elections, less campaign spending and fewer campaign ads would make that less likely, not more likely. And enabling ineligible people to vote and limiting political power to those who believe that the role of government is to decide who-gets-what, would also make good government less likely, not more likely.

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