Why ‘Every four years’ may be destroying America…
Because elections are mandated by the Constitution, we always know exactly when the next one will be. Every four years in November. Never changing. In theory this is not such a bad idea, it guarantees whatever party is in power will have some time to push through its agenda and fulfill promises made during the campaign.
It seems though that whatever benefits come as a result of the four year cycle, the negative effects are quickly outweighing them.
Because the election dates are always fixed, a politician can start campaigning for the next election the day after the last one ends if he or she wants. This means we end up with a very long, drawn out campaign between elections. In early 2010 the major U.S. news networks were already talking about “Decision 2012”. Drawn out campaigns are costly for everyone involved.
Not only do they require a lot of money, if a politician spends the majority of his or her professional life campaigning, when do they find time to actually do what they are elected to do?
Clearly “Every four years” has been a staple of American politics since pretty much the birth of the nation and is so ingrained in American political life that some would consider it blasphemous to even think about changing it.
But it’s time for a change. In fact, it’s past time for a change. So what would happen if we eliminated “every 4 years” and took a different approach?
Well let’s look at a country nearby that already does this.
Federal elections in Canada are considerably different than in the U.S.
Since 1996, there have have been four federal elections in the U.S. (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008). In Canada there have been FIVE (1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008) with another occurring this year.
Why is this? In Canada there are several events that can trigger a federal election. The three most common are:
- The ruling party has been in power for four years and it’s time for another vote (Canadian terms last for five years, but generally an election is called after four)
- A budget bill is defeated or the ruling government loses a vote of no-confidence brought by the opposition parties
- The ruling party has a change in leadership
The leader of the ruling party in Canada can call an election whenever they please. Jean Chretien did this in 2000, even though the last election was only three years earlier (in 1997) simply because his popularity was high and he thought he could easily get another majority. He was right and he did.
Now you might assume that more frequent elections would actually be more problematic than “every 4 years” because more frequent votes cost more money and can frustrate the population and could potentially put Canadian politicans in a state of constant campaigning because they never know when they next vote will be.
But that’s not the case, for several reasons.
Firstly, Canadian election cycles are extremely short. Consider this: The action which defeated the current government and triggered the coming election occurred on March 25, 2011. Election day is May 2. Yes, that means politicians have less than TWO months to make their case to the people before they go to the polls.
The cycle can be longer but nowhere near as long as in the U.S. because Canadian laws require that Parliament (the Canadian equivalent of Congress) sit at least once a year.
On top of that, Canadian election financing is strictly limited by the Elections Act, a law which does not have a single provision that would allow for increased spending in a lengthy campaign.
Despite the current push against “increased regulation”, the Canadian election cycle and political landscape are kept in check by just that.
In this case the regulation is a good thing. Everybody wins. The politicians don’t have to spend as much money or time campaigning, leaving them more time to actually govern the country. The citizens don’t have to deal with a long, tiring campaign.
Canada also has no midterm elections. Except in the case of a by-election (caused by say a recall or the death of a legislator), Members of Parliament (the Canadian equivalent of Congressmen) are elected in the same Federal election that determines our next leader. Now this has benefits and drawbacks but, like mentioned above, it chiefly gives the politicians more time to govern and less time to worry about campaigning and elections.
No political system is perfect and the Canadian system is far from it, but it does offer a stark and curious contract to the American. Yes the laws are tight, but free elections are the most critical part of a democratic country, makes sense they should have some pretty strict rules doesn’t it?
The long and drawn out campaigns of American politics are costly, time consuming and hurt the American government and its people.
Not long after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the defeated Republicans went into overdrive plotting their course for 2012. Note the entire majority of Right wing talking points are focused on how evil and anti-American Obama and his “Liberals” are, virtually none have anything to do with actually coming up with a strong plan to govern the nation.
Of course we know the GOP has a plan (keep the corporations happy, don’t bother with anyone else) but even here we can see the effect of long election cycles. Politicans need to pay for their campaigns somehow. A longer campaign means a lot of money and the natural source for this money is major corporate contributors. The whole system is tilted to their advantage.
We’ve gone from “Of the people, by the people and for the people” to “Of the rich people, by the special interests and for the corporations”.
That’s not America. In fact that might not even be Democracy in a sense.
“Every four years” is hurting America, the time for a change is long overdue.