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Twenty-two months. How is anyone expected to keep it together?

The presidential election cycle in the U.S. is broken. And it's a major contributing factory to the bluster, hate and downright silliness on tour throughout the country.

Take, for instance, the newest controversy, especially for Republicans looking to recapture the White House after two terms: Syrian refugees. Polls show about 60 percent of Americans have concerns about the migrant wave, particularly following the recent attacks in Paris.

There's probably an adult conversation to be had here. It's clearly a time for a measured, fact-based debate about the balance between security and openness. And, as Vice President Joe Biden reiterated over the weekend, in this case, the two typically opposed maxims are probably on the same team in this case. A holy war, waged between Christians and Muslims would benefit the Islamic State. Certainly, a reasoned debate about President Obama's troubled Middle Eastern policy should be under way. 

But that conversation isn't happening. Instead, we have would-be Republican nominees spouting all flavors of the absurd and disturbing. Donald Trump briefly favored a Gestapo-like tracking system for all Muslims in the U.S. The man thought targeting a specific religious minority -- U.S. citizens -- was somehow appropriate and constitutional. Ben Carson continued to just, well, say stuff. And even the presumed level-headed establishment candidates, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, flirted with a theocratic pitch or two.

Fear is no doubt a powerful driver of the steaming pile of ludicrousness. It's propelling much of the race -- to the detriment of guys like Bush -- all along.

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But there's another factor. The presidential cycle keeps getting longer. Now 596 days in duration, it's effectively rendering reasonable political discussion impossible for an increasing amount of time. The ruling party is, instead, focused on selling the notion that everything is working just fine. The opposition spends it's time telling us how the country is failing.

Neither reflects reality. But that's where the conversation remains mired for two years. No nuance. No artfully crafted rhetoric. 

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It doesn't have to be this way. The United Kingdom's recent elections, including prime minister, lasted just 139 days. Last month, Canadians elected a new prime minister after just 78 days. Japanese law limits that country's elections to an incredibly short 12 days. The 2016 presidential cycle could cost $5 billion when it's all said and done, fundraisers are predicting, much spent by opaque, billionaire-funded super-PACs. Even conservative estimates say the 2016 cycle will cost double of the $1.7 billion spent in 2008. Spending on the entire U.K. election was capped by law at $33 million.

It wasn't always this way. John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy 11 months before the 1960 election, reports the New York Times. Previous elections lasted only a few months, which is especially notable because horse-and-buggy or whistle-stop politics defined the campaign trail. But that was before parties from small states -- such as Iowa and New Hampshire -- found instant relevance by holding the first caucus or primary. Cynical scheduling is, at least in part, largely to blame.

The ever-lengthening presidential election cycle is as big a problem as is the dark money that's funding it. Congress, an already political machine, becomes even less functional, as the two parties focus solely on undermining the other. Necessary debates about policy devolve into farcical games of peacock. Facts are sacrificed for sound-bites -- looking at you, Ben Carson.

Instead of reasoned policy debates, we have a horde of stiff cardboard cutouts incessantly banging around the country. And they always need something new, no matter how ridiculous, to say.

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.

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