For years, following politics in the United States has felt — at least to me — like trying to take a refreshing sip of water out of a high pressure fire hose.
In other words, overwhelming, painful, and ultimately unsatisfying.
I’m burned out. Sincerely. I don’t have any idea how people can find any of this process enjoyable or interesting any more.
Saying that is very hard for me, because I used to get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I was a classic political junkie who really enjoyed following the competitive horse races that are campaigns, as well as the day-to-day flow of stories that make up our political consciousness in this country.
But at some point, years ago, something just snapped inside me.
I can be forgiven, I think, for being exhausted by politics because I think you probably are too. How could you not be?
Political leaders have been trying desperately to get our attention, our money and our votes for a long time, but never has it been harder for them to do so. We have more distractions, entertainment options, and things that divert our over-saturated attention today than we have ever had.
Cutting through that noise becomes harder every day. So politicians treat everything as an impending apocalypse, make everything a holy crusade, and attempt to keep us all in a perpetual state of panic and emotional apprehension.
On top of that, the tools by which they can seek the manipulation of our passions have never been more clever and effective. Commercials are slicker, and look better. Marketers can micro-target you by your demographic characteristics, cross-referenced with consumer data and run through a sophisticated modeling process to deliver a tailored message that will work best on you. You can be hit with ads on television, radio, the pre-roll of the YouTube video you are watching, a time wasting game you’re playing on your phone, or the streaming music service you use. Campaigns even create elaborate hype videos that look like something out of a championship sports team.
And then there’s the schedule. The overbearing, insufferable schedule of unending misery.
Consider the following, for the sake of comparison. The parliament of the United Kingdom voted on Oct. 30 to hold their next general election. This election is for all of the marbles, and will decide the next prime minister and the entire makeup of the new parliament.
That election will be held Dec. 12. So basically, that campaign will last a month and a half.
Here in the United States, the first candidate to announce he was running for president — former congressman John Delaney of Maryland — did so on July 28. Of 2017. More than two years ago.
The first truly serious candidate with a decent shot at the nomination, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, announced her candidacy on Dec. 31, 2018. Nearly a year ago.
All this, for an election to be held in November of 2020, a year from now. Three years of campaigning. Probably a year of prep time prior to that two years of campaigning. It. Never. Stops.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons why things are different here compared to Great Britain. The most important difference is that the parliamentary system employed in the United Kingdom establishes intra-party leadership on an ongoing basis, therefore an election can be held at any time with no need for primaries to be held. That shaves off a lot of time, to be sure.
But things don’t have to be as bad as they are here.
The primary election calendar begins with the Iowa Caucus, which will be held on Feb. 3. The primary season does not conclude until early June, when Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands finally get a chance to vote.
That five-month calendar is absurd, of course, but in order to contest an election in enough primaries to give yourself a serious chance at winning, you need to get your campaign up and running with enough advance time to raise money, lock down volunteers, and make your case to voters in multiple states.
That is why you almost have to start two years in advance.
Changing our system to dramatically truncate the primary election, and pushing it later, would be a great start. Create a three-group election system where small states vote first in a Super Tuesday-esque clump, then mid-sized states, then large states. Do it over the course of a month in June, and then you’re done.
Granted, this wouldn’t solve every problem in our over-saturated political system, but it would be a heck of a start.