Can it really be May 2007 and we’re already in the thick of a presidential campaign? Was that really a “debate” the other night among the eight Democratic hopefuls, 19 months before the 2008 election, and are 10 GOP candidates actually squaring off this week to declare themselves ready to run the nation? Will 2008 just feel like some form of déjà vu where desperate politicians try to say something new to a populace that by then wishes we hardly knew them?
Consider how elongated the election season has become: We will know the winner of the next two World Series before we know who will be the next president of the United States.
Once upon a recent time, say, the presidential election of 1976, challenger Jimmy Carter was just a blip on the nation’s radar screen as late as January of that year. The governor of Georgia and a man overtly motivated by religious impulses, Carter was the choice of only 4% of Democratic voters as late as January 26 of that year. His rise from near political obscurity to the Democratic nomination just a few months later was meteoric (and, in retrospect, maybe a good argument against short primary seasons), but the pace of the process was not unusual. Candidates typically announced their intentions late in the year prior to the election, and with generally enough resume and record so that people could judge their accomplishments and philosophy.
Now, it seems, the primary season affords us a different experience and a different opportunity. For far too many candidates, it offers a chance to observe how much they will shade their accomplishments and change their philosophy to suit the primary voters to which they are appealing. The longer that season, the more tactical they become, tacking and veering to pick up the sustained breeze they believe will carry them to victory. Whether it’s Rudy Giuliani proclaiming his evolving admiration for conservative judges or Mitt Romney explaining why he is both pro-life and troubled by South Carolina’s proposed law to require pregnant women to see ultrasound images, this tacking can make spectators seasick.