Aren't presidential elections supposed to have the drama and brevity of the Olympic Games, with the winner getting the Oval Office instead of a gold medal? Lately this election feels more like watching paint dry.
Most democratic countries have sense enough to get their election campaigns done in a bubble of intensity lasting a few weeks or a couple of months. This way, they can guarantee maximum attention by voters. Canada imposes a minimum of 36 days - their longest campaign in history was 74 days. But the U.S. is always trying to do it differently...even if different means disastrous. The 2008 Presidential race has been going on since the dinosaurs died, and there's still three-and-a-half months to go before we get to vote.
I'm not the only one who feels that way. In April, the nonpartisan Pew Research Study published a poll showing that 65 percent felt the campaign had dragged on too long, and had gotten too negative - up from 57 percent in February. That fatal figure must be up to 75 percent by now.
Is that why the media make a mountain out of every election molehill that comes along? Do they need non-stories to fill the dead space on days when not much happens on the campaign trail? Every little knee-jerk and misspeak reported as seriously as the war in Iraq? Like the "emasculation" thing that exploded the other day around Sen. Jesse Jackson's remark about Obama's manhood? You could just see the CNN and Fox guys trying to blow it into a major historical event (even though they're all too emasculated to even use the word "penis" on TV).
Americans have worried a lot about spending limits on campaigns. How about time limits on campaigns? How about not trivializing the whole wonderful democratic process by dragging it on and on...and on? If boring us all to death is somebody's brilliant new strategy for stealing elections, it's going to succeed.
Of course, America does need to allow some months for the candidates to raise all those billions of dollars they need for funding their campaigns. But maybe candidates should be required to do their fundraising before the campaign. (And maybe they'd need way less money if the campaign were squeezed into 75 days.)
I googled around to look for controversy and commentary on length of U.S. campaigns, but didn't find much. In the mid-1990s Rice University professor Randolph Stevenson published a paper asking if the length of a campaign really mattered. He quoted some dusty studies from the 1940s and 1950s that suggested "voting behaviour" wasn't affected very much by campaigns. Today, the consensus seems to be that the longer a campaign is, the more fully the voting public can become informed on the issues.
Maybe that's true...to a degree. But there's a point of no return, and we have clearly passed it.
Meanwhile the ACLU is in court insisting that a Maryland law is unconstitutional because it limits the amount of time people can have political signs stuck on their lawns. The law restricts political speech, says the ACLU. Maybe. But leaving those sun-faded signs out there indefinitely is pushing the envelope on accumulating inattention. After a few weeks, nobody sees the signs any more.
Yes, indeed. Campaign reform is desperately needed. But let's add duration to the long list of things that need to be fixed.