Columns 2003

Political campaigns start WAY too early!

Can you hear them yet?  They’re coming whether you can or not. They are stealthily creeping into our unconscious, just enough to start a minor annoyance that almost, but not quite, rises to a conscious level.  Come next year this time, though, they will be assaulting us on a daily basis in our newspapers, on our TVs, from our radios.

They are the candidates and their campaigns.

I don’t know when running for office became a full time occupation or when the next campaign started three days after an election. But that seems to be the point we have reached.

By the time last year �s election was winding to a close, I had so lost all tolerance for the noise and the hype and the shaded semi truths being tossed about by all the candidates that I hit the mute button every time I heard a commercial for one of them on TV or radio.  I found myself deliberately looking for their full-page ads in the newspaper to make sure I had that side up when I lined the bottom of my birdcages. Lest anyone think I mean this as a criticism of our great democracy, rest assured this is the only type of government under which I would want to live. But I am frightened by an election system so run amok that it threatens to turn off all but the most extreme voters by sheer dint of the drivel and folly it produces.

It seems as though the next presidential election campaign starts before the recently elected president is sworn in.  I feel like I’ve been watching the same news report every night since George Bush became president – a small herd of indistinguishable middle aged males roving around the country hoping to find something that will cause them to stand out from the pack as a presidential candidate.

I think that American politics and elections have to remain feisty and provocative and interesting or we will lose the electorate to either ennui or despair. The great American middle class remains a slumbering giant that can hardly be bothered to get up and vote in presidential elections, let alone in local ones.  Thousands of elected offices every year go uncontested because two interested candidates can’t be found to even create the pretense of a real race.

Now if I were queen and could make all the rules, I’d rule that any candidate who started campaigning sooner than a month before the election would be executed.  If you can’t tell me what you stand for in a month, another 12 months are not gong to make it any better.  And every candidate would have exactly the same amount of money – say, one million dollars – to run their campaign.  Any amount over that is just buying votes.

There would be no TV coverage of the campaigns or election results allowed until after the final poll had closed in the most far flung community in America. That way every voter would still think their vote mattered when they cast it.  And voters would be forced to actually listen to what candidate had to say or read what a candidate stood for instead of voting for most virile looking or best hair.

Commentators who keep telling us which candidates don’t stand a chance of winning so we shouldn’t waste our votes on them would be banished to the furthest reaches of my kingdom. As for pollsters sapping all the vitality out of campaigns by telling candidates what to say to appeal to some lowest common denominator instead of standing up for their principles and being true leaders – well, I can’t think of a punishment severe enough for them yet. But I am checking out books on the Spanish Inquisition for ideas.

That’s what I would do if I were queen.  But I’m not. So the best I can do is cringe every time I see President Bush in another campaign photo op that is pretending to be something presidential. I’ll hit the mute button every time that homogenized pack of Democratic presidential wannabees intrudes on my consciousness. 

And finally, I’ll pray that Tony Knowles never figures out how to blow dry his hair. In Alaska, our candidates dare to still use Brylcreem. And if that doesn’t make you stand out from the pack, nothing will.