Katon Dawson, the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, announced in New Hampshire this week the January 19th Republican Presidential primary date. While I understand the leadership of the South Carolina Republican Party wanting to keep the “:First in the South” status of the primary, I am a little taken aback that we Republicans will vote for our preference for President a full year before the new President takes office.
New Hampshire and Iowa will certainly make their dates earlier. There is even speculation about Iowa holding its caucus before Christmas. Add to that fact that big states such as Florida and California have moved their primaries to January and February respectively and there is a real possibility the race for the nomination will be over six months before the convention.
The Democrats are in a similar situation, also having early dates for primaries, with South Carolina’s coming on January 29th of next year.
There is a real possibility that both parties will have their nominees with about six months left to convention, and about 8 months left to the General Election. Those nominees are not going to sit around and wait; they will be raising money and making headlines. The money involved will be incredible.
But, it is the atmosphere that will be created that bothers me far more than the money. With nominees in place, both the sitting President of the United States and the sitting Congress of the United States will be players in the national political campaign, not in the national governing.
Now, I do love a good campaign. I am a political campaign junkie. But, there is a time for campaigning and a time for governing. Doing the nation’s business, making deals that are not under the microscope of the campaign season, is essential to making things work.
During what call the governing period of our system, politicians of both parties will make deals and allowances to make the trains run on time so to speak. In what I call the political season, the least little thing is harped upon for advantage. Compromise and deal making are absent. The grandstanding needed to get this or that bloc of voters simply will not allow logical reasoning at times.
Historically, our nation has done pretty well in sifting through the political rabble rousing to get things done that needed to be done. But, this upcoming election will present a unique challenge.
As a nation at war, I will cite two modern unpopular war examples. The first is in 1952, when outgoing President Harry Truman was overseeing the Korean War. Once Eisenhower and Stevenson were nominated, Truman basically had his hands tied on ending the stalemate. But, that only lasted for three months. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson faced a firestorm over Vietnam and withdrew from the race, but he still had the Presidency. His withdrawal seemed to remove his effectiveness as Commander in Chief, but he still had the bully pulpit of the Presidency until Nixon and Humphrey were nominated.
Now, President Bush faces going into to 2008 with a crisis in the financial markets and the War on Terror and Iraq. Once the nominees are in place, logical reasoning between the President and the Congress will likely give way to political grandstanding. Further, in this modern age, the nominees will take even the bully pulpit away from the President as they show up on talk shows, send out emails and run ads.
The problem is, only the sitting President and Congress can actually do something about the nation’s problems. The nominees will be well known commentators, with their operatives in both camps.
One has to wonder how history would be different if the current way we pick the President was in place throughout the nation’s life. Would someone like Lincoln, who was homely and high pitched in speech, even have a chance? Would someone like Franklin Roosevelt, who had health issues, be able to endure the campaign?
Then there is the governing part. Several Presidents of the United States have worked with Congress to make large historic moves during there last year or two in office. Could James Monroe sell the Monroe Doctrine with his potential successors hammering him in debates? Could Thomas Jefferson have been able to cobble together the coalition that banned the importation of slaves in an election year as he did in 1808? Could Theodore Roosevelt finish up the Panama Canal and send the naval fleet on a world tour that forever changed how America’s military power was respected around the world?
We in the United States are the only democracy in the world in which it takes so long and costs so much to choose our political leader. Making the political season longer might appeal to some, especially those who make money off of it. But it seems to do little to help problems gets solved and it seems to make more and more people tune out. It also gives fewer candidates a real chance at the nomination. The thing is too drawn out, and I believe, hurts us more than helps us.