Jeff Jacoby

All the same, the US presidency is the most influential and consequential job in the world, and there ought to be some connection between the stature of the office and the tone of the competition to win it. Presidential candidates weren't always so off-puttingly ravenous in their pursuit of power. For half of American history, it was thought unseemly for candidates to campaign in person. Even Andrew Jackson, who was no shrinking violet, refused as a candidate to attend public dinners or travel out of state. "I have not gone into the highways and market places to proclaim my opinions," he said with pride in 1827.

Alas, that era vanished long ago. Now we are condemned to presidential campaigns that last for years, with candidates "go[ing] into the highways and market places" thousands of times, and proclaiming their opinions on every conceivable subject in a flood of statements, speeches, debates, TV appearances, and commercials that grows more exhausting with each election cycle. In just the last five months of the 2012 campaign, well over 1 million ads were aired on behalf of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, shattering the previous record.

Must presidential politics be so voluble? Must candidates express their views on absolutely everything? Presidential historian Paul F. Boller notes that one of the nation's most taciturn presidents – "Silent Cal" Coolidge – was also "one of the most popular men ever to occupy the White House." Coolidge became president on the death of Warren Harding, Boller writes, "and people at once took to his imperturbable style." Coolidge was perfectly capable of expressing himself; as president he held 520 press conferences and delivered more speeches than any of his predecessors. But he recognized as well that voters value restraint.

Presidential candidates in our day face enormous pressure to always be "on," ready to voice an opinion or make a promise or provide a reaction to any issue. Maybe we'd find the campaigns less onerous if the candidates were less garrulous. Maybe voters wouldn't get so weary of the quadrennial procession of politicians coveting the White House if that procession didn't keep starting earlier and earlier. Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election on November 6, and within days Florida Senator Marco Rubio let it be known that he was headed to Iowa for a Republican fundraiser – "a trip certain to stoke speculation," as an AP story put it, about a Rubio candidacy in 2016.

Maybe "speculation" was what it stoked among hardcore political junkies. My guess is that among more sensible Americans – those who prefer Popsicles to politicians – all it stoked was exasperation.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.