Home > National Politics > One term and you’re out

One term and you’re out

We’re in pre-campaign mode. No, sorry, we’re in full campaign mode. For a few months after November 2008, we were in post-campaign mode. And so it goes, on and on. One sweeping reform could, to a large extent, change all this: the one-term office. Make every elected office a one-term one. One mandate is all you get. Once it expires, you’re out.

Presidential campaigns included, we live in a permanent electoral cycle of national and state elections for one million (you read that right, one million, according to Wikipedia) offices to be filled. While these people trying to get elected or reelected are placing calls to potential donors or huddle with their advisors parsing words in their next day’s speech or discussing the color of the tie they’ll be wearing to an interview, who’s minding the store? The business of elections has superseded that of government. Issues are mentioned only insofar as they impact voter decisions.

Also according to Wikipedia, the 2008 presidential campaign raised more than $1,650 billion. One can imagine the finagling and negotiating needed to get that kind of money, the promises made, the alliances sought, the compromise on essential issues. And how many hundreds of thousands of people putting in millions of hours at taxpayers’ expense are involved in the effort? How many millions of miles do the campaign buses and planes travel and at what cost to our environment?

It’s not as though there’s no awareness of the problem. Reforms are discussed and sometimes introduced, yet runaway costs—therefore frantic and permanent fundraising—and the total focus of media and public on the issue of elections prevent us from seeing the fix.

Democracy is good. It’s still the only way a country can be run, a universally accepted fact that makes even the worse dictatorships pretend to go through some kind of electoral process. But the medicine may be killing the patient. Look at the difficult economic situation in Europe. Are Sarkozy, the French President, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, actually looking for solutions? The first is up for reelection and facing a tough battle against the socialist François Hollande, the second has to deal with a public opinion uneasy at the extent of German involvement.

For the United States, for France, Germany and every country where real elections take place, the one fix mentioned above would greatly change the way countries are run. People would still have to get elected that first time. But after that, elected officials, including the president of the country, wouldn’t put all their time and energy into the next election nor have to worry about the possible impact of their performance on voter decision. They would actually do the work they were elected to do, possibly with greater commitment as they would be courting not voters but the judgment of history.

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