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Needed: The Perpetual Election

 Buck up, Americans!

It’s true that Hillary Clinton refuses to drop out of the Democratic race, threatening to turn an interminable campaign into a more or less perpetual one, but this is good! Americans, after all, love competition, and elections are the best competitions of all.

They’re nearly perfect television dramas, as compelling as The Sopranos, with just as many plot twists (Hillary’s tears! Barack’s speeches! Bill’s rants! Rudy’s cell phone!) and abruptly disappearing characters (remember Tom Vilsack, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo?). They combine lies, pratfalls, calls to greatness, surrealism, revelations of character, lavish expenditures, grand humiliations, and, once a while, for verisimilitude’s sake, references to things of concern to voters, i.e., issues. Issues are to elections what feet are to football, a necessary part of the endeavor but not its point at all. As 2008 has made clear, the most important issue in any election is not war or jobs or the disintegrating global environment, but the campaign itself— the election “narrative,” in the pundits’ phrase. Thus ABC’s George Stephanopoulos defended his content-free questions at the Democrats’ debate in Philadelphia last month by saying, “Our thinking was, electability was the No. 1 issue.” In other words, the election is chiefly about itself.

Back in the 20th century, the United States achieved economic dominance by manufacturing cars and other durable goods. Now we produce elections, with nearly as many ripple effects. The recent revelation that the two remaining Democratic contenders have already spent half a billion dollars on their campaigns shows that elections are economically beneficial— indeed, they are our leading bulwark against our tottering economy’s collapse, simultaneously keeping alive the advertising, media, hotel, airline, political consultancy, and blog industries. Maybe we could export our election expertise, as it’s one of the few realms in which we still possess a comparative advantage.

Indeed, elections have become so invaluable that we ought to make them permanent, while severing them from the annoying task of governance— the reward for the winner would simply be a nice title and, if desired, a few more years of running for office. Bush, who never did provide much evidence of actual governing, could drop all pretense and return to campaigning, the one Presidential activity in which he has triumphed, sort of. Obama and Clinton could go on running against each other indefinitely, until they achieve Homeric epic-hood— telling Serbian war legends, waxing anthropological, bowling, and periodically submitting to inane questions from the chorus. The campaigns would feature a few million more attack ads (with ever-rising production values), bountiful servings of god-awful food, and extended dressing up in native garb. The dozens of debates would be grouped by theme: Revs. Wright and Hagee could moderate one on religion, and Drs. Phil and Ruth could oversee one on childhood reminiscences. In the meantime, people genuinely interested in issues could run the country. Maybe Al Gore would be interested.

I doubt this change would require a Constitutional amendment, for the Bush Administration has already demonstrated the Constitution’s infinite flexibility (e.g., see under torture). One or two more inspired Supreme Court selections, and the new plan probably won’t even need Congressional approval. Besides, some aspects are already in operation: thus, Dick Cheney, the current de facto ruler, surreptitiously issues binding directives from an undisclosed location. No annoying campaigning for him!

It’s likely, of course, that unless we make this change, we will fall behind internationally, for many other countries already hold elections that have no bearing on who runs the country. Zimbabwe, already noted for rigged elections, has won new-found regard for its latest innovation, conducting a spirited, seemingly genuine election but dispensing with announcing its results. Myanmar generals, take note!

In the U.S., competition for competition’s sake would become a mania. Movie stars would run for Academy Awards without making movie appearances; journalists would compete for Pulitzers on the strength of theirs. Politicians would pander to voters with no threat of their promises becoming reality. Terrorists would vie for heavenly deliverance without blowing anything up. And super-delegates fond of being wooed would hold off choosing a candidate for the rest of their lives.

2 Comment count
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Hi there,

The most recent email message from Obama's campaign fits nicely with your vision. This is their signoff:

"I want to remind you that you will make all the difference in the epic challenge ahead."


Rebecca Goldman






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Hmmmm....... I thought we

Hmmmm....... I thought we HAD perpetual elections!

Actually, having spent considerable time in Thailand, I think a benevolent King like Bhumapol Adulyedej would be a good idea. The problem is, a benevolent king is really a hard thing to reproduce...or predict. As gracious and progressive as His Majesty is, his reprobate son the heir apparent would surely squander the last 50 years of progress overnight. Even the King has recognized this, and set into motion an unprecedented process whereby hs daughter, a fine lady, could ascend to the Throne. We shall see.