The silly season is once again upon us.
Thus far the Democrats have fielded 23 presidential candidates and will hold their first “debate” in a little more than five weeks — approximately a year-and-a-half before Election Day, 2020.
On the Republican side, President Trump has held more than 50 election rallies since his 2017 inauguration, and is busily devising and tweeting his derogatory nicknames for potential Democratic opponents.
According to Open Secrets, a campaign finance watchdog, presidential and congressional campaigns, party committees and outside sources spent a combined total of $6.5 billion during the 2016 election season.
In the April 14, 2017, edition of The Washington Post, analyst Christopher Ingraham stated: “$6.5 billion is a staggering sum. ... Americans used that money to fuel a 596-day political contest that most of us were disgusted by well before it was over.”
Surely $6.5 billion is too costly a ticket price for an extended period of unedifying and minimally enjoyable entertainment.
Thanks to the Citizens United decision, the influence of money in politics is virtually unregulated. Corporations are legal persons and money is just another mode of corporate free speech. Any attempt to limit the length of the campaign season is deemed a threat to the aforementioned freedom.
Politicians and designated staff members must devote at least one-third of their time begging donors to fund their next campaign and must start doing so before the exhilaration of a latest electoral victory has scarcely subsided. Many politicians rely heavily on gerrymandering and voter suppression to keep themselves in office. Reform efforts within the Federal Election Commission, like so much else within the U.S. political system, are stymied by partisan obstructionism.
Only those who profit most from the current system — notably politicians, their advisers, their donors, and media moguls — seem satisfied with the system as it is.
Four simple (and perhaps simple-minded) suggestions:
1. Once an elected official has served two terms, vote against that official either in the next primary or general election. Such an attempt to establish voter-imposed term limits would probably be of limited effect, but if the attempt were to become a coordinated trend, it just might get the attention of long-standing office holders.
2. Do not make any political contributions that you know will end up funding the campaigns of office holders who have served two terms or more. If this were to gain grassroot support, and become a more widespread practice, it might get the attention of party officials.
3. If you live in a blue state, seek out red candidates who offer reasonable alternatives to the status quo and vote for them; vice versa if you live in a red state. Continued political polarization — especially when elected officials in both major parties have developed too cozy relationships with major corporate and individual donors — poses a severe threat to rule of, by and for the people.
4. Refuse to be a readily manipulatable single-issue moral-values voter. Also refuse to be an equally manipulable identity-politics voter. Instead vote primarily for candidates that are likely to favor economic programs that benefit the middle- and lower-classes. To do otherwise results in ever increasing polarization and in decreasing middle-class influence. The continual weakening of the middle class undermines democracy and further solidifies rule by the wealthy and powerful few.
Is our nation so far down the road to plutocracy and oligarchy that meaningful democratic election reforms are now impossible?
Is there anything admirable about this present form of electioneering?
Are there available and potentially effective means for reforming this system?
Does any other advanced democratic republic have a similarly costly, time-consuming and, to my mind, ludicrous mode of electioneering?
All American voters should reflect on the foregoing questions and pose them to their fellow citizens. If we wish to preserve our representative democracy, election reform should be an obvious priority.
Andrew G. Bjelland, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus, Philosophy Department, Seattle University, and currently resides in Salt Lake City.