WASHINGTON, D.C. - If a political scientist from the planet formally known as Pluto were to descend to Earth to study what is unique about America’s politics compared to all other colonies of homo sapiens, you know what he/she/it would say?
We don’t have the loudest and most obnoxious politicians; they’re a universal in the TV age.
We don’t have the most corrupt elections.
Nor the cleanest.
What we do have, indisputably, is the longest campaigns. It isn’t even close.
The formal presidential campaign starts with the Iowa caucuses in early January and ends the first Tuesday of November. That’s 10 months.
The “official” campaigns, marked by the candidates’ official announcements that they are running for president, usually last 16 to 20 months. Mitt Romney, for example, formally declared what everyone knew already on June 2, 2011.
The “unofficial campaign” used to begin after the mid-term elections. So the unofficial 2016 campaign should commence in November 2014.
But it has already started.
Hillary Clinton is unofficially campaigning like mad. And recently, Republican “unofficials” Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee traipsed up to New Hampshire for a cattle call.
So, what about the rest of the planet?
In parliamentary systems, campaigns average four to six weeks.
The most recent campaigns in France and the U.K. took one month. Israel's last election began on Oct. 9, 2012, and the voting was held on Jan. 22, 2013 – and that place has issues!
Canada's longest campaign ever lasted 74 days, aye.
Our Plutonic political scientist also would note that the length of American campaigns generates an extraordinary number of TV, radio and web commercials, which irritate normal people. American campaigns also cost more than in other lands.
The worst thing about long campaigns, though, is that they make our elected officials stay in election mode instead of governing mode. Not only do they fret about the political implications of every vote and utterance, they must raise money almost non-stop.
This is a fate too cruel to wish even on politicians.
The length of American campaigns truly is an anomaly among the world’s democracies. They weren’t designed that way. They shouldn’t stay that way. Parliamentary systems are just as good at throwing the rascals out. But that isn’t an option for us.
Shortening campaigns, however, is an option. Indeed, I would argue that it would be the single most effective, efficient and realistically feasible election reform we could muster.
Here’s what ought to happen: State legislatures need to set primary election dates closer to general election dates. The two-party duopoly would have to back this. There are zillions of reasons why they wouldn’t, so there might have to be a pitchfork revolution. But if the two parties wanted this to happen, it would.
Congress could help. Congress, not the Constitution, sets our uniform Election Day – the first Tuesday of November. Congress could set a uniform Primary Election Day – the second Tuesday of September. There might be some lawsuits over it but we can worry about that later.
American elections haven’t always taken so long. It is an unintended folly, not a tradition and certainly not a virtue.
It shouldn’t take two years to declare Habemus Presidentum.