Denver Bar Association
November 2007
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The Perpetual Campaign

by Doug McQuiston

Have you gotten the sense that the presidential election campaign never really ended in 2004? Instead, it has become like a reality TV series. It went on a short hiatus, but came back with new contestants, like a new season of "Dancing With The Stars."

One of the stars from the last series, John Edwards, returned for another season, but he probably will be voted off soon. They’ve also dragged out one from way back in 2000 for a Comeback Tour — John McCain — but he’s not long for the show, either. The Republicans have even brought in a "real" TV star, Fred Thompson, who has played the president in a couple of movies. Amazingly, a lot of folks think he would do a good job in the real Oval Office. After all, he looked pretty presidential in the movies.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

In addition to the constant stream of televised debates, we are subjected to daily news stories about some new flub or how much money is being raised. The shoes Fred Thompson wore at the Iowa State Fair became a multi-day story, fodder for a thousand liberal blogs. The candidates’ verbal gaffes show up on "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report." They’re everywhere.

Maybe we should just abandon all pretense to seriousness and make Jeff Foxworthy the "host" for the campaign’s duration. The debates could be based on questions posed by those precocious fifth-graders on his show. They couldn’t possibly do any worse than the nutjobs on YouTube (including my favorite, who dressed up as a snowman to pose some inane question about Global Warming — like I said, I couldn’t make this stuff up).

Why are we stuck with this ridiculous method of choosing a president? Can’t we find a better way?

No. Not unless you demand it, and I see no signs of that happening anytime soon.

The "show" will go on like it has before: Candidates will say what they think you want to hear, while avoiding anything someone might use against them. They will poll aggressively about what they think is the "mood of the voters," and base their positions on these polls — no matter how flawed the polls are.

When they actually get called on the banality of their positions, the candidates will feign high dudgeon, crying about the "politics of personal destruction," while their own opposition research minions back at campaign HQ are busy digging up a little dirt of their own to sling.

Why do they do this? Haven’t we complained about how empty-headed national politics seems to be these days? All we want is for a candidate to "tell the truth," right? Haven’t we told the pollsters that we want "an end to partisanship," and a "stop to all those negative attacks?"

Yeah, right.

I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear: They do this because you want them to! They do it because it works. They do it because none of those things you tell the pollsters about wanting an end to partisanship are true.

You don’t really want an "end to partisanship." You don’t really want politicians who "just tell the truth." You don’t want the "personal attacks" to stop. Hell, too many of you base your votes on them!

Worst of all, you don’t want politicians who are willing to be leaders, who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they tell you they will do. You want politicians who agree with you. This is impossible for them, though, because "you" (the electorate) are so mercurial that no poll will ever get "you" right, so they never will, either.

Don’t believe me? OK, let’s try a little experiment. Imagine that a new candidate announces tomorrow. Here are just two of his main positions. Take a look and then let me know if he can count on your vote:

Medicare and Social Security: "Medicare is in deficit already. When the baby boomers start to retire in numbers in 2010, that deficit will explode. By 2019, the Medicare ‘fund’ generated by payroll taxes will be broke. Busted. Finito. If any of you under 55 think you’ll get your full Social Security pension or Medicare coverage as generous as your parents have now, you’re dreaming. Get ready now, because it is not going to happen. None of these other guys will tell you the bad news — I just did.

If elected, I will immediately raise the retirement age to 72, increase premiums, deductibles and co-pays, and restrict eligibility through means-testing. I’ll cut benefits, too. It’s the only way we will be able to afford to give you any benefits when you retire." (How do you like him so far?)

The War in Iraq: "First, let me agree with all of you who said invading Iraq was a mistake, and that the execution of the political side of the invasion has been riddled with errors. However, I have one message for all of you who thought you voted last time to end the war: Get over it.

George Clemenceau once said that war is a series of catastrophes culminating in victory. You can’t end a war with a vote, any more than you can end a gunfight with one. The other side gets to vote, too, and if they vote to continue fighting, guess what: you’re still going to be at war. There is only one way to end wars: total victory on one side and unconditional surrender on the other.

Our latest war was declared on us 10 years ago. I didn’t start it, but if elected, I’m damn well going to fight it with everything this nation’s got. I will keep as many troops in Iraq, or anywhere else they need to be, as long as needed, to keep killing the bad guys and propping up the good guys until terrorism is as extinct as anarchy was at the beginning of the last century. We can’t stop fighting until they do. That’s how I define victory."

There. Total truth, no personal attacks. He said precisely what he will do if elected, no focus-group driven wishy-washiness. And he’d be lucky if his own mother voted for him.

So, as you continue to watch the pathetic reality TV show that the presidential campaign has become, the question isn’t why won’t the candidates just "tell the truth"? The question is why aren’t you ready to hear it?

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