Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2002 / 1 Teves, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Curing our democracy of afflictions


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The winners of the midterm elections have yet to be sworn in, and the losers have yet to clear out their offices. Yet the news media already are filled with stories about the presidential race in 2004. There even has been speculation about a hypothetical 2008 contest between Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice.

The primary purpose of elections is to hold public officials to account. If they have performed well in office, they should be re-elected. If they have performed poorly, they should be turned out. But the news media tends to treat the formulation and execution of public policy as mere posturing for the next election campaign. This diminishes democracy, and is a danger to it.

Our democracy is the healthiest in the world, but it suffers from some severe afflictions. Election campaigns are endless, enormously expensive, and not particularly edifying. What I learned from the myriad political commercials I had to endure this fall is that every candidate for public office in Pennsylvania loves children and old people, and plans to increase spending on both, while cutting taxes and being "fiscally responsible." There apparently wasn't enough room in the 30 and 60 second spots to explain how all this could be done, or to provide voters with other information they might think pertinent, like, say, party affiliation.

One lesson we learned from the late substitutions of Frank Lautenberg for Robert Torricelli and of Walter Mondale for Paul Wellstone as U.S. senate candidates in New Jersey and Minnesota, respectively, is that long campaigns are necessary only to fatten the bank accounts of political consultants. Most of us can pick up on what we need to know about the candidates and their positions on the issues in considerably less than the nine months campaigns typically run.

The midterm elections didn't actually end until December 7, when Louisiana held a runoff election for U.S. Senate, and for several lesser offices. Media commentators treat the Louisiana system as a curious anomaly, but the other 49 states would profit from adopting it.

Democracy is thought to be synonymous with majority rule, but the only state where this is always true is Louisiana. Louisiana also is the state that provides the greatest opportunity for all points of view to be heard in an election campaign. Just about anyone, regardless of party affiliation or absence of it, can run in the general election. If any candidate gets a majority, he or she is declared elected. If no one gets 50 percent of the vote, there is a runoff between the top two finishers. This guarantees that the officeholder will be chosen by a majority of voters, even if the winner is the second or third choice of some.

Suppose all 50 states adopted the Louisiana system. Minor parties like the Greens and the Libertarians would have a better opportunity to present their views to the public. Voters would be more likely to vote their consciences in the general election, because they would know there is a high likelihood there would be a second opportunity to vote for the lesser of evils. Centrists would be more influential, since a plurality no longer would suffice for election.

Suppose we coupled a Louisiana system with shorter election campaigns. Suppose there were no campaigning before Labor Day, and the general election day was moved to the third Saturday in October. I'm not one who agonizes much about low voter turnout. I think democracy is strengthened, not weakened, when the ill-informed and poorly motivated stay home. But if we held elections on Saturdays, it would be easier for people who wished to vote to vote.

In those races in which no one won a majority, there would be a runoff on, say, the second Saturday in November. As in Louisiana now, there is no need for a lengthy runoff campaign, because voters would be pretty familiar with the candidates and the issues on which they were campaigning from the general election campaign.

Shorter campaigns. Greater popular voice. Majority rule. I suppose it is too much to hope for.

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08/31/02: Are Bush's inactions against Iraq calculated?
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08/20/02: No proof of Saddam's wrongdoing? Yeah, right
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07/30/02: State Dept.'s anti-American actions
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07/23/02: Iran's is on the verge of a social and political explosion. So why is media ignoring it?
07/17/02: FBI isn't supposed to stand for Foolish, Blind and Incompetent
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06/12/02: Bush saw them and raised them, and he's holding the aces
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06/04/02: A new draft for the 'war on terror'?
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05/15/02: If there is a way for America to lose the war, Gen. Tommy Franks can find it
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03/19/02: It's time pols and gov bureaucrats be held to the same standard of accountability we insist for corporate execs
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02/25/02: Don't rule out a quick victory --- even if prez says otherwise
02/21/02: Saving our military from itself
02/19/02: Front Page fiction
02/15/02: Our European allies are like the fat kid who wants to play quarterback
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02/06/02: Bush whacking the media
02/04/02: Why serious folks disregard the European Union --- and why Bush must, too
01/30/02: Give economy pneumonia in order to protect it from a cold
01/28/02: Media is its own worst enemy
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01/21/02: How Bush could be Generations X and Y's Kennedy ... and guarantee a GOP victory in the midterm elections

© 2002, Jack Kelly