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by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 1/9/08
By now, almost everyone except the news media agrees that the presidential election campaign is too long by far. Most of the people I speak with are tired of the speeches, the promises, the hype and especially the personal attacks and negative ads. With almost ten months yet to go, the voters may just be sick of it all and starting to look for reasons to vote against candidates rather than for them. And the longer the campaign drags on, the more opportunities the candidates will have to give them cause to vote against them. By now, the voters already know enough about the candidates and you know the old saying about what familiarity breeds.
I love politics, as an observer, that is. I’d rather have multiple root canals than have to campaign for public office. But even I am getting tired of observing this campaign. It just shouldn’t take two years to select a president for a four year term. Not only does it tax the attention span of the average eligible voter, less than half of whom will bother to vote, it diverts attention away from other important issues and crises, such as, for example, the war on terrorism or an economy that may be tanking. Over half the candidates have day jobs as senators or representatives for which the taxpayers are paying them handsomely. What gives them the right to take a year or so off to campaign for a higher paying job?
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
Another reason to shorten the campaign is the obvious fact that things can change on a daily basis that could tend to favor some candidates over others. A major terrorist attack in the U.S., for example, could result in a surge of support for Republicans like John Mc Cain or Rudy Giuliani, both considered to be strong on defense and strong leaders under stress. A post-surge deterioration of conditions in Iraq, on the other hand, could generate support for candidates perceived as anti-war such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards.
And speaking of change, the campaigns seem to have evolved into a contest between experience (Clinton, Giuliani, Mc Cain, Romney) and change advocates (Obama, Huckabee, Edwards). But why can’t we have both change and experience? Every successful leader in large organizations knows that change is a constant and it usually takes an experienced leader to successfully effect transformational change because of organizational inertia and resistance to anything new. Much as people say they want change, they often end up hating it when they discover the downside. The voters’ demand for “change” got them Jimmy Carter. It also created a candidacy for Ross Perot whose primary accomplishment was to doom the reelection of George H. W. Bush and give us eight years of Bill Clinton.
Thankfully, we finally passed the first milestone in this interminable campaign: the Iowa caucuses. Most people didn’t really understand how the Iowa caucuses work, but that’s alright because they really didn’t matter much other than to demonstrate that a black American can win a caucus in a small, lily-white Midwestern farm state. The population of Iowa is about 2.8 million, less than 1% of the U.S. population and not at all demographically representative of it. Aside from the historical significance of Obama’s brilliant victory and the encouragement it provides to his backers, voters elsewhere may be forgiven for asking, “Who cares who won the Iowa caucuses?” Sen. Obama’s win notwithstanding, Sen. Clinton still has three times as many delegates nationally pledged to her at this point. The only past winner of the Iowa caucuses, excluding incumbents running for reelection, to go on to win the presidency was Jimmy Carter. One good thing the Iowa popularity contest did accomplish, however, was to shorten the list of candidates by ending the campaigns of Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.
With so many candidates pandering to various population segments and interest groups and modifying their positions to fit the audience or to reflect the latest opinion polls, the campaigns will get increasingly desperate and resort to attack politics. It’s difficult to avoid it if one really wants to win badly enough. Personally, I place greater weight on candor, character, judgment, communications skills and demonstrated leadership under challenging circumstances than on a candidate’s current position on a particular issue. Conditions change and so, sometimes, must positions. Core principles, however, should survive change intact. CRO
2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.