Congratulations to the Anaheim Ducks, winners of this year’s Stanley Cup. And, to the rest of you NHL hockey players, enjoy your summer vacations. Training camp starts in two weeks.
At least that’s what it seems like. Actually, players have about two months off before camp opens in September. That’s when the longest season in professional sports begins, and we’ll again be blessed with a bunch of preseason NHL games, heretofore the most meaningless endeavors known to humankind.
Until, that is, the 2008 presidential contest started. To paraphrase Churchill, never in political history have so many spent so much time on the campaign trail with so little to show for it.
First, consider the sheer length of this campaign.
When he ran for president in 1968, Sen. Robert Kennedy declared his candidacy in March of that year. He wasn’t even in the race until eight months before Election Day. This time, it would be fair to say the campaign started in November 2004.
As soon as Sen. John Kerry announced he wouldn’t contest President Bush’s reelection, the race was on to find Bush’s 2008 successor. Some candidates have been running even longer.
On the Republican side, John McCain first sought the presidency in 1999. Although, to be fair, he stopped running when George W. Bush became the Republican nominee in 2000 and he supported Bush’s reelection in 2004, so he actually took a few years off the campaign trail before picking up the mantle again.
That’s not really the case for former Sen. John Edwards. He sought the Democratic nomination in 2004, briefly suspended his campaign when it became clear he wouldn’t win, then became Kerry’s vice presidential candidate. He’s been running, virtually non-stop, for national office since at least 2003.
Next, consider the size of the field.
Because Vice President Cheney made it clear years ago that he wouldn’t attempt to follow President Bush, this is the first election since 1952 with neither an incumbent president nor vice president on the ballot. That means both parties started without a frontrunner, and plenty of people wanted to throw their hats into the ring.
The Federal Election Commission currently lists 17 candidates for president. These candidates are enjoying plenty of face time. Each party has already had two debates, and more are on the way throughout the summer and fall.
Yet this is where the emptiness of the long campaign comes into play. While Americans are enduring record amounts of political rhetoric, our leaders in Washington seem determined to take away the issues the presidential candidates ought to be discussing.
Consider the Senate’s immigration bill.
Last month, lawmakers slapped together a compromise bill that managed to skip the usual political steps. For example, when the Senate considered an immigration measure last year, it held two full committee hearings and one subcommittee hearing. That wasn’t nearly enough discussion, but this year lawmakers have managed to do even worse: They held no hearings and thus heard from no experts about the bill’s possible effects.
That’s because, instead of going through the committee process, this year’s bill was written by a handful of staff members and delivered to the full Senate. Leaders presented the bill on a Saturday and wanted it voted on by the following Thursday. In a body that works through unanimous consent, that’s practically light speed.
But what’s the rush? It’s taking us years to select the next president; while we’re at it we should make immigration reform part of that political process. After all, the very reason to have elections is to give people a chance to choose leaders based on issues and policies.
If voters are going to endure an extended presidential election process that stretches out over several years, voters at least ought to know that the candidates are going to debate issues that matter to them. Instead of discussing the candidate’s marriages or their stands on abortion, let’s make the big issues, especially immigration policy, a topic in the presidential campaign.
We don’t need the government to protect us from a robust debate on this difficult issue. We need the government to allow a robust debate on this difficult issue, and that’s what a presidential campaign should be about. Otherwise, it’s as pointless as an NHL exhibition game.