Our Elections Take Too Long And Cost Too Much

The 2008 election is ALREADY over three years old and we are still only a little bit closer to knowing who the two party’s top nominees will be.

The Democrats are, by their own admission, now feeling a “strong undercurrent of fear” if their little beauty contest between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton drags on for very much longer. The policy differences between the two candidates are minuscule, so it’s really now down to their two personalities.

However, I’m old enough to remember all the hot air and chicanery that USED to take place at those summertime political conventions where several ballots were needed in order to select a nominee. In those days, the “smoke filled rooms” had a lot more to do with selecting a candidate than the results of primaries ever did.

But, those days are long gone, and the Republicans (or, more specifically, Mr. McCain) are already starting to campaign for the general election. The Democrats now run the risk of a repeat of Mr. Guliani’s debacle if they wait too much longer to engage Mr. McCain on the issues. They also run the risk of blowing the absolute best chance they’ve had in decades (thanks largely to the dismal Presidency of George W. Bush) to take the Congress back from the far-right Republicans.

Nowadays, national political conventions have degenerated into afterthoughts, which then begs the obvious question as to why they are even still held at all.

In many ways, the electoral system in our country has become a lot like sports playoffs. In most professional and college sports, there USED to be just a semi-final playoff or two and then a playoff for the championship. Now, we have the semi-quarter finals, then the quarter-quarter finals, and then the quarterfinals followed by a whole slate of semi-finals. THEN, if anyone is still interested and paying attention, there’s usually another playoff or two before they finally get to the actual championship game.

As a result, hockey and basketball playoffs now stretch well into summer, the Super Bowl is now bumping up against baseball’s spring training and the World Series is now often held with snow on the field. And, just like our seemingly endless federal election process, the professional and college sports playoff processes have now been stretched out so nauseatingly long that all but the most crazed sports fanatics have lost all interest by the time the actual championship game rolls around.

My hunch is that an Al Gore (or someone with similar stature within the Democratic Party) will convene a “high commission” of some sort after the Texas and Ohio primaries if there is no clear (or emerging) winner there to look for ways to select a nominee. However, if it turns out that they suggest Mrs. Clinton is the candidate to step aside, I’m not sure she (or Bill nor their supporters) would go quietly. They are really caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”.

But, clearly, this dilemma is largely of the Democratic Party’s own doing. Unlike the Rebublican’s “winner take all” strategy in most states, the Democrats have actually created this monster by awarding proportional delegates in their primaries. And they have a far greater number of “superdelegates” than the Republicans do as well. At the very least, the Republican approach forces candidates that don’t make the grade to drop out early when the math shows they have absolutely no chance of winning. However, on the other hand, someone now needs to also pass that bit of information on to Mr. Huckabee.

But, even beyond the current dilemma the Democrats now face, I firmly believe the process for picking our Presidents and Members of Congress has degenerated to the point that it serves no other useful purpose than to raise and waste millions of dollars (BILLIONS I’m told in this current election cycle) in “campaign donations”.

Or, to put it another way, we’ve set up a system to raise and throw billions of dollars at these clowns. And we then have the audacity to wonder why all of them are so corrupt. Could it be that it’s actually the largely privately-financed (vice publicly financed) SYSTEM the two mainstream parties have now created that has, in turn, forced all such candidates into corrupting themselves in order to stay anywhere competitive?

We like to call our system for electing our leaders “free speech”. But, in reality, I believe the way we do it simply encourages and underwrites systemic corruption.

I’ve lived and voted in New Hampshire for many years and am continually amazed at how many Presidential “wanabees” begin wandering through our State, raising money and forming “exploratory committees” to see if there’s enough interest (spelled “money”) for them to actually run in our New Hampshire Primary YEARS before that event ever takes place. Our primary has now come and gone for 2008, but these clowns were in “campaign mode” and were running around with their hands out for nearly THREE YEARS before any votes were actually cast this time around.

To me, there’s also something inherently wrong with a system that, by default, requires candidates for high office to generate millions upon millions of dollars, either from their own pockets or from seemingly endless “fund-raising campaigns”, just to get a job that pays far less than the average corporate CEO. It also seems like our elected officials are in a perpetual campaign mode even before the day they first take office. And when they are constantly campaigning, is it any wonder that money (and the pursuit of same) becomes their “Job #1” and everything else (including running the country) comes second?

I can’t help but compare and contrast such perpetual campaign foolishness with what our Canadian friends do come election time. That’s because, just like it USED to be in our own country for many, many years, in Canada there ARE no “primaries”. In Canada, the various political parties (there are currently four major ones) pick their own candidates internally that they plan to run in each political district (called “ridings”) in an upcoming election.

Also, and from time to time, each party in Canada convenes a national convention where they’ll pick a national party leader. The person they pick then serves in that post from that day forward, either as the Prime Minister (if their party already has the most seats in Parliament), or as the leader of one of the “loyal opposition” parties.

In that sense, the Prime Minister’s job is NOT necessarily tied to them winning a federal election. Canadian Prime Ministers can (and frequently do) change faces between election cycles. This happened a few years back when Mr. Martin was selected at a Liberal Party convention to take over from Mr. Cretien. Mr. Martin immediately became Prime Minister because the Liberal Party had the most seats in Parliament at the time.

And while there are four major political parties in Canada, by law, candidates from ALL minimally qualifying political parties must also be listed on ballots for federal elections. Noticeably absent is the two-party, totally corrupt “duopoly” of colluding “Republicrats” deciding who can (or can’t) be included on a ballot.

What’s more, federal elections in Canada are ALL federally funded and coordinated. So, once a political party selects their various candidates to run for a seat in a particular riding, qualifying candidates who also meet a certain minimum popularity thresholds (based on minimal results from a previous election) get a proportionate pot of money from the government to campaign with. And, once that pot of funds is gone, it’s gone.

So then, when Parliament IS dissolved (and it can be dissolved for any number of reasons, mostly having to do with “no confidence” motions over such things as budgets and whether or not to extend Canada’s support in the “war on terror” with troops in Afghanistan), an election is called.

Then, after JUST A MONTH OR SO OF CAMPAIGNING, the election is held. And whichever party wins the most seats in Parliament (and assuming their leader has also been elected (or re-elected) to their own seat in their home riding) that person then becomes the new Prime Minister.

But, what’s REALLY refreshing in all this is that, after just a month or two from beginning to middle to end, all the “hot air” has been expended, the election has been held and is then OVER in such a way that everyone can concentrate on getting back to work doing what they were all elected to do…actually governing the country.

Perpetually raising millions to keep their seats in Parliament (or the Prime Minister in his house on Sussex Drive in Ottawa) are usually WAY down the list of Canadian parliamentarian’s collective priorities….which, to me, is PRECISELY as it should be.

The Canadian system for picking their government is simple and quick (if admittedly a bit less “representative”) compared to ours. But, as I’ve said, what’s REALLY nice about the Canadian approach is that most Canadians (at least those who don’t have access to American television) aren’t also subjected to years and years of seemingly perpetual campaign foolishness, not to mention being bombarded with hour after hour of television and other political advertising as well as “get out the vote” phone calls at all hours of the day and night in the weeks and months leading up to our primaries.

By now (unless they have been living under a rock somewhere) people in the United States have known for YEARS who the current crop of Presidential candidates are, what they stand for, and what the issues will be in this election. So, in my mind, dragging what has now degenerated into a perpetual, money-grubbing circus of ever more mindless hot air serves absolutely NO USEFUL PURPOSE TO OUR COUNTRY, whatsoever (other than to make a bunch of already rich and corrupt media conglomerates even richer).

Keeping things “short and simple” makes grass-roots campaigns the norm rather than the exception in Canada. And, I believe a similar approach might also help keep a lot of the graft and corruption at all levels in our US Government to a bare minimum as well.

Right now, our system for electing our Presidents and Members of Congress simply takes too damn long, costs too much, and thoroughly corrupts every single one of the people in it.

We need less….MUCH less. And, sometimes, less really IS more.