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Campaign infinity

James Dechant | Monday, November 12, 2007

This Nov. 4 marked a “pre-anniversary” of sorts: the one-year eve of the 2008 American presidential election.

That’s right, we still have 12 months to go. It’s hard to believe, considering how many candidates have been campaigning for months already, some of them for a solid year or more. The country is showing a strong interest in the political process leading up to next year’s election, but you can bet many of us will be sick of all the campaigning well before next November rolls around. And not without good reason: the history of presidential campaigns is one slow descent into mudslinging, political one-upping and a generous allowance for slander.

I don’t expect the trend of crafty politics to reverse itself any time soon, and I don’t think you can end badmouthing by decree. (You can never mandate an attitude change.) But the nearly unending cycle of political campaigning, with one election season blending into the next, is an identifiable phenomenon that creates unnecessary amounts of unhealthy competition among public servants. And we can change that. Shortening campaign length offers a tangible step for reducing slander and curbing the political rat race, as well as saving money and letting the candidates gain experience that actually counts.

There are several arguments against condensing the campaign season. For one, critics point out, candidates cannot realistically expect to compete at the financial level unless they start fundraising at the earliest possible date. Time equals money, and, in America, the correlation between campaign finance totals and party nomination is incredibly strong. Unless you’re a private billionaire like Ross Perot, you cannot mount a campaign that meets the high cost of running for office without sizeable fortunes to fuel it.

But supporting the finance race to see who can squeeze the most money out of pet interest groups only contributes to the problem. Every year the cost of campaigning rises, so politicians start raising and spending more and more money at increasingly earlier dates to stay afloat. This election, the combined spending of both major parties on political campaigns will total over a billion dollars. Imagine if even a portion of that money were put to other uses – like, say, healthcare, defense, education or fighting poverty, just to name a few.

By regulating fundraising through mandating a certain date before which formal campaign processes are restricted, all the candidates would be on a level playing field. There would be no need to compete financially because everyone’s timeframe would be equally abbreviated. Exploratory committees could save money spent on attempts to predict pertinent national issues two years into the future. Transportation costs could be dramatically reduced.

Of course, many people consider the fundraising experience a candidate gains invaluable for a future presidential role, and apply the same argument to time spent stumping and debating. That might be true, but I would rather see a candidate earn practical knowledge in his or her current post than learn how to out-campaign and out-fundraise other politicians How does that prepare you to better lead the nation?

We need the campaign process to decide the candidate best suited to run the country, absolutely, and I don’t encourage doing away with it altogether. But no matter how much you talk about running a clean campaign, in the end, it’s a direct competition pitting you against others. I’d prefer a candidate who gains an extra year of experience serving as senator or governor – posts where you learn to work with people, not against them – over one who shows political chops on the rough and tumble campaign trail. The presidency demands not catering to specific groups, but creating solutions that benefit the nation in its entirety.

This ideology of placing so much value on direct competition, rather than on mutual compromise and working towards a common goal, says a lot about the presidency’s attitude toward foreign policy. If America has learned anything about unilateralism in the past decade – and while we’re at it, the past century – it should know the value of cooperation.

Finally, some claim that two-year-plus campaigns really let us get to know the candidates better. This begs a simple response: No. Again, I’d rather become acquainted with a candidate through his or her strong record of service in the Senate, state government or elsewhere than know them by what we “learn” in campaigns. Long election processes pull up meaningless facts that just serve up fodder for comedy routines and tabloids. Really, what has this campaign taught us so far? Hillary likes Celine Dion, Giuliani had numerous divorces and Dennis Kucinich has a killer smile. There’s more, of course, but what have we learned that absolutely demands two solid years of campaigning?

Candidates today have no option but to stick with the precedent and initiate their campaigns ludicrously early. The whole process wastes time and money that could be used for better purposes. Change the precedent, compact the entire election process to fit within a year (or less) and save us all a lot of mudslinging.

James Dechant has schemes of creating a planning party with the express

purpose of researching the possibility of forming an exploratory committee to pursue the option of running for the 2024 election. If interested in becoming part of history, contact him at jdechant@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.