Preoccupation with Elections

Samantha’s mindset is typical of a lot of young adults these days, and to some extent, this is as it should be. As important as national policy issues are, it is simply impossible for every citizen to pay attention to every significant political development in real time. True, we are capable of lobbying for our Congressman to vote this way or that, which can be politically effective at times, and we can join nonprofits or sign petitions if we want to promote or defeat a particular bill. But the nation does not need 300 million lobbyists. Even if one feels called to fight for a certain cause, most established causes offer plenty of ways to serve that do not involve further entanglement in the national political process.

All too often it seems the public’s preoccupation with elections winds up doing more harm than good. Both major parties spent the greater part of 2012 simply waiting for the election to arrive – waiting for Godot, as it were, for the game-changer they hoped for never arrived, abandoning them to the mercy of the status quo. 2011 saw more progress, but not much; after a tremendous battle over raising the debt ceiling in July, politicians virtually shut down for the year, failing to pass any laws of particular significance between the August and Christmas.

If this is to become a pattern, then in the future Congress will spend 30 percent of its time on lawmaking and 70 percent on preparing for the next election. This is an intolerable prospect. But without giving our elected representatives an incentive to behave otherwise, we may soon find ourselves in a nation where the election season has become longer than the governing season.

As inhabitants of one of the oldest democracies in the world, Americans are keen on elections – we choose new representatives in the House every two years, the shortest term of any national legislature on earth. This briefness in term is probably a factor in why the American consciousness focuses on elections more than governing, and why the nation is internationally infamous for its brutally long campaigns.

Yet no matter how disruptive these campaigns’ sheer frequency may be, it does more than simply distract politicians from their jobs and discourage them from doing anything too unpopular. It gives casual voters like Samantha a chance to familiarize themselves with the candidates and the current state of issues more frequently than casual voters can in other countries, and it gives them the ability to increase or decrease the president’s power halfway through his term by adding or subtracting from his or her legislative majority. The frequency of American elections may not make governing any easier, but it certainly helps citizens to exert more control over the direction the country is heading in.

But perhaps we are over-fond of elections. After all, they of all things do not inherently accomplish anything. Governments are charged with improving the lives of their people, not with existing for their own sake. A government with experienced, disciplined leaders but little ability to pursue an agenda worth speaking of is a trophy case, not a government. More important than the party composition of Congress or the famous names that the halls of Washington are packed with are the concrete policies that said famous names pursue and implement. It is the policies, not the words or the parties, that make a real difference in peoples’ lives.

-Jack Hanke is a sophomore at Gordon College.