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Filling the world's most important job

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Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 12:00 am


Politically, if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that there’s nothing we can all agree on. But one thing comes close: The presidential campaign is too darned long.

A couple of years ago, I reread Theodore White’s The Making of the President, 1960 and was stunned to realize that John F. Kennedy didn’t officially enter the race until Jan. 2, 1960; Richard M. Nixon followed a week later. Both men had been plotting to run for years, but these days, if you waited until January of election year to officially get into the race, you’d be dead on arrival.

These days, we have nearly perpetual campaigns. No doubt, there are politicians who already are holding secret meetings to organize their 2016 campaigns. The only break we’re getting this year is that only one party’s nomination is up for grabs.

The British do this right. By law, Parliamentary elections are held on the 17th day after the previous Parliament is dissolved, not counting weekends and holidays. If the United States adopted this timetable, it would be way, way cheaper. We could finance the elections out of public funds, ending the legalized bribery that is the campaign finance system.

We’d compress all the horrible campaign commercials, debates and general backstabbing to roughly the period between the start of the baseball playoffs and the end of the World Series. Think of the peace of mind.

We don’t do it this way because we’ve never done it this way. The current system evolved gradually and now is entrenched, supporting an entire class of influential people. The political class is to politics what those birds called "oxpeckers" are to rhinoceroses and water buffaloes: They sit on their backs and dine off the ticks.

Today’s campaigns primarily are a way to transfer money from special interests to local television stations, while feeding a lot of oxpeckers along the way.

A big-bucks donor writes a check, which is spent paying consultants who design the strategy, produce the commercials and buy time in whatever TV market the campaign wants to reach that week. In 2010, an off-year election, mind you, more than $3 billion was spent on political advertising.

Complicit in all of this is my industry, the National Association of Pundits. Most members of NAP are too lazy or too dumb to worry about the complex nuances of public policy.

It’s only the most important office in the world. If Americans are to get the government we deserve, we need to fix the way we fill it.


Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Readers may write to him at: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 900 North Tucker Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63101, or email him at



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