It’s June 2015. We are seventeen months away from the 2016 presidential election. Even the presidential primaries are looming way off somewhere on the distant political horizon.
Nonetheless, we already have 10 declared Republican primary candidates (with Lord knows how many others waiting in the wings… can we really tolerate another Trump bid to hype his “Celebrity Apprentice” gig?).
Adding to the political merriment, we have three declared Democratic candidates ready to challenge Hillary’s arrogant sense of entitlement to be the Dems’ designated standard-bearer. Most political pundits have declared her the prohibitive favorite to be the nominee, but there’s plenty of time for more damaging exposés on the Clinton Foundation, the Benghazi debacle, and more scandalous secret cell phone nonsense that could sink her candidacy.
No matter how you slice it, democracy in this country is slow, cumbersome, and outrageously expensive. Our multi-billion dollar election campaigns drag on endlessly with mind-numbing repetition, silly slogans, and attack ads that insult the intelligence of most of the electorate.
Presidential elections blend into mid-term elections in a seamless chain of “election years” that paralyze the legislative process. Lawmakers, focused on a continued series of upcoming elections, shy away from grappling with urgent issues of national importance like deficit reduction, balancing budgets, and immigration reform. Washington grinds to a halt and the people’s business is left unattended as politicians are forced to spend the majority of their time pandering for campaign contributions.
By contrast, other countries conduct quick, compact, and very efficient elections. For example, in Canada, national political campaigns are shorter and much less expensive… by law.
For example, in 2008, while we were wrapping up the marathon presidential campaign that lasted well over two years, Canada held its own campaigns and national election to select a prime minister after a political campaign of just 37 days.
In the short time between our national political conventions and Election Day in 2008, they selected their next prime minister. Better yet, their entire campaign cost $333 million ($290 Canadian) — a paltry sum compared with the staggering campaign spending on national elections in the U.S. which, for example totaled over $4 billion in the 2014 midterm election cycle, in which Mitch McConnell’s Senate reelection bid in Kentucky alone exceeded $100 million.
Some will say that a short election cycle like that in Canada cheats the voters. They’ll argue that the Canadian electorate was poorly informed on the central issues in the campaign and on the positions of the candidates. They’ll contend that five short weeks is insufficient time to fully vet the candidates or for the media to ferret out whatever skeletons may be lurking in their backgrounds.
I disagree. I think American voters are “quick studies” who are as smart and politically astute as our Canadian neighbors. Surely, the U.S. electorate doesn’t need two full years to become familiar with the issues and the candidates for president.
Those who are motivated to be fully informed about the election can and will do so quickly, even within several weeks. And, those who are not so inclined, or who vote straight party tickets every election, or who “vote with their gut,” probably never will examine the issues closely anyway, no matter how long the campaign drags on.
So, I applaud the shorter election cycle our Canadian neighbors enjoy. By stark contrast, in this country the expanding length of political campaigns and obscene campaign spending are totally out of control and trending to get much worse.
Shortening the duration of American election campaigns also would go a long way toward addressing the seemingly intractable issue of campaign spending reform which the Supreme Court has stymied and Congress has failed to address in an effective manner. Shorter campaigns would mean less time to raise and spend political contributions.
Our neighbors to the north offer a good example of how to run efficient national elections. We have a lot to learn from Canada’s compact and very effective political campaigns.