If you’re already sick of what has become the horror film called “The Election Season That Will Never End,” think about this: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently dissolved parliament and announced what is the longest election campaign in that country’s history – 78 days.
You read that right. Seventy-eight days. Two and a half months. Which is about as long as our electoral marathon has already gone on, and the first presidential primary is several months away. Is this yet another sign that Canada is a lot saner than the U.S.? I mean, they already have universal health care, rational gun laws, the awesome city of Montreal, better bacon and a really cool national anthem.
Now it seems they also approach the democratic process in a much more intelligent way. Which makes me wonder why our democracy has become the equivalent of a triathlon, an endless slog in which everyone involved – participants and the electorate – end up battered and bruised. Is there anything we can do about it? Here are a few suggestions.
1 Make the presidency a six-year, one-term-only gig. That gives anyone elected to the job plenty of time to actually accomplish something, while also guaranteeing that the second half of his or her term won’t be spent running for re-election. And it means there will be one-third less endless election throwdowns.
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2 Start the campaign season after Labor Day, two months before the election. Most industrialized countries run political campaigns that are three months long or less. Do they know something we don’t? Or, should I say, have you ever heard the term “voter exhaustion”?
3 Publicly finance the election. Citizens United, up there with Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) as one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history, only made a bad system even worse, allowing more millions to pour into an already corrupt process. So give contenders a fixed amount of money and tell them they can spend it any way they want, but that’s all they’ll have – no private, corporate or PAC contributions at all. Let ’em whine. Who cares?
4 Ban negative ads. Set up an independent commission composed of members of both political parties, journalists and average Joes, who scrutinize political ads and decide when they go over the line into negativity and falsehood. Then ban the obvious liars.
5 Limit polling. It seems there’s a new poll every microsecond. What do they really tell us? That people’s minds keep changing? Stop the presses! Pass a law saying every news and polling organization can do their thing, say, only once a month. Eliminate the clutter.
That’ll do for a start.
I know, I know. This is a free country, yadda yadda, people can spend their money any way they want, yadda yadda, there’s such a thing as free speech in a democracy, yadda yadda yadda. And besides, it’s all settled law, you say; the court has ruled on Citizens United. Well, yes, I know this. Things don’t change overnight.
But here’s what else I know: Sometimes liberty becomes license. And that’s what’s happening in America today.
Money has completely corrupted the system and helped create a situation where the U.S., the most powerful country on Earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts (lower than any country in Western Europe or Latin America). You have to think that disgust with the process has something to do with this.
Remember the 2014 Senate race? Remember how you couldn’t turn on the TV without being bombarded with endless negative, insulting and annoying campaign ads? Well, I’ll bet that’s going to look like a golden age compared with what’s coming up in the 2016 campaign.
Seventy-eight days. Sheesh.
Lewis Beale is a journalist based in Raleigh.