Not much has changed in the way that presidential campaigns are conducted since the first elections over 200 years ago.
Elections are held.
The winner takes office. He performs his duties for two to three years, then eases in to the next battle – re-election. If he wins, he works for three and half more years before campaigning for his hopeful successor.
On the other side, the challenging party watches people jockeying for their spot, for the opportunity to take on the incumbent party. Dozens narrows down to a few. The few narrows down to a couple. When we finally have a challenger, the real campaign starts on both sides.
There are attacks. There are rallies. There are campaign funds raised and spent, then raised and spent again. Throughout the process, very little is done to actually lead the country. Both the President and other politicians must take time out of their actual jobs to try to earn themselves or their party the right to lead again.
This process was necessary in the days when communication was slow, when news was slower, and when people did not have as much access to information about candidates and their views. Things are different today.
The system needs to change.
Under no circumstances should the most powerful person in the world spend time trying to get re-elected or trying to get other people re-elected. It defies reason to have him or her leave the helm to raise money or speak at rallies.
With all of the problems that the country currently faces, how can he or she take their eye off the ball for a single day, let alone the months required to run a presidential campaign?
Most running for President are currently in office. They should be fulfilling the duties they were elected to perform. Those who are not currently in office should likewise not be allowed to campaign simply because it would give them an unfair advantage over a campaign-restricted competitor.
Why are a dozen or so elected officials responsible for helping to solve the problems of the country spend as much as 18 months doing things other than their job? They weren’t elected to campaign for a year and a half, yet it happens every 4 years.
Campaigns in the 21st Century
We have the technology. We aren’t using it.
Simply stated, there should to be no presidential campaigning, at least not the way we know it now. Using the internet, television, radio, and print publications, candidates should be allowed exposure at equal levels.
Before the primaries, people can announce their candidacy by a certain date. There would need to be criteria set up to such as a petition or balloting that made it to where only serious candidates could make the initial cut. It couldn’t be a simple declaration of candidacy – they would need to demonstrate enough support to make them valid.
Once the primary candidates are identified, they are interviewed. Each would be asked the same questions privately. The questions would be selected by an election committee from a pool of suggestions sent in and voted on by the public. Weight would be given to the votes, but the election committee would be responsible for proper wording of the questions and final selections.
The interviews would be made available on an election website, broadcast on radio and television, and posted as transcripts in print publications. This is the “first look” at the candidate and their views. Every week leading up to the primary (one primary, not state by state), points of mass exposure would occur.
There would be debates, analysis, topical speeches, and open forums. Forgive the comparison, but imagine an “American Idol” style weekly format. Every week, there would be a vote. Someone gets eliminated.
When we have the final candidates, the format changes to match a three-person system (including one independent candidate who could belong to a smaller party or none at all). Same process, but more intense, more pronounced, and much more on-point with the times.
Between the weekly exposure points, candidates are not allowed to talk to the press. They cannot go to fundraisers, banquets, speeches or anything related to getting elected. They have to do their jobs. There is no campaigning. No travelling state to state shaking hands and kissing babies.
If they hold a public office, they must do what they were elected to do 5 or 6 days a week. The campaign happens on the weekend and in a structured format.
It sounds absolutely insane based upon where we are today in presidential campaigning, but consider system as it is now. It’s broken.
The concept could be debated, enhanced, and ridiculed at the same time. There are more holes in it than swiss cheese, but if enough understanding and consideration is given to it, there are certain things that would be very obviously beneficial to the country.
- Focus on Governing – This is the primary benefit. Keep the president working. Keep congressmen and governors focused. Fix problems and address issues during the entire term of office. Campaigns should be controlled.
- The Ungreased Palms – When you remove the ability of a candidate to raise their own campaign funds, we eliminate one avenue of corruption within government. Campaigns are expensive and often the deeper wallets have the upper hand.
- Better Understanding of the Candidates – A properly formatted campaign system will allow the public to have better access to answers about real issues rather than scattered messages tossed at us at the leisure of campaign managers. More debates. Address the issues acutely rather than with broad strokes. Give us specifics. Give us plans. Give us details. Show us what will happen if we vote one way or another.
- Leadership as a Skill – In this campaign format, the public will be able to truly compare ideas and leadership potential. Having a centralized repository of answers to our questions can help the public have a more clear understanding of what someone can do if they were President based upon a level playing field rather than based upon cash assets and the ability to put more commercials on the air.
Again, there are a million holes in the concept. There are challenges, including the state-based voting structure we currently employ and a plethora of other rules that would need to be put into place for unaffiliated private campaigns. I won’t discuss the “popular vote versus electoral college” issue – that’s an entire other article.
As flawed as the concept is, it is no worse than the corrupt campaign structure we now use. Expand on the idea, fix it, or write it off as asinine in the comments below.