Anyone want to review the bidding on the presidential race? All right, then, let’s see. Hillary leads Barack in the polls, though he has been raising all this cash online, and John Edwards wants to raise taxes. As for the Republicans, Mr. McCain is fading, and people are debating whether America is ready for a Mormon president, while Fred Thompson looks like the great conservative hope, though Rudolph Giuliani is gaining some traction with the right, and, hey, how about that YouTube debate, and … and … operator, might I please have a 5 a.m. wakeup call, somewhere around Labor Day 2008, meanwhile zzzzzzzzzzzz, awk, zzzzzzz.
I try, I really do, to stay awake and look excited. The 2008 presidential contest — which could be one of the most important in the last 50 years, given the stakes for American foreign policy and homeland security — has lasted longer than the wait for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” “Deathly,” in fact, describes the race with some acuity.
Campaigns go on too long these days. That’s the nub of the matter. We’re never not wondering who is pulling ahead of whom in the polls, and what it means for Our Future as a People. Not for more than three months will it be one full year until the voting. Yet the candidates lunge and parry, and the media scribble down all they see for our delectation and edification.
Edification, my hind foot. I make bold to suggest that the phenomenon of the endless presidential campaign is one of the unhealthier developments in our polity. We shouldn’t have to think about politics and politicians this much. The politicians shouldn’t oblige us to do so.
Money is (of course) near the heart of the problem, but even nearer that vital organ is ego — the quest for personal fulfillment through the dramatic rescue of an imperiled nation. Supposedly.
Look at some of these people. What does Hillary Clinton bring as it were to the table save a passion — one her husband indulges with comparable gusto — for submitting her underside to be tickled and her ears rubbed by the voters? What’s the Hillary program for rescuing America? Durned if one can tell, apart from the static enumeration of bills she would enjoy signing if they were passed. What is she doing this for? Why?
Concerning the lesser candidates, you could ask the same question tenfold. I cannot see that the nation hungers for the presidential services of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or of Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Each has appealing characteristics. Each faces insurmountable hurdles given the vast cost of running for office — the daily need to dial for dollars and pick pockets.
It’s the money that makes candidates jump in early, with palms outstretched, but nobody forces them to make such a commitment. Why?
Because of the sheer, crushing power that comes with the office? There was always that, even in Madison’s day. What’s different, and worse, is that the power has in our own time become incalculably vast — a sign of our reliance on government for the good things of life. Not just for safety and protection and security of contracts, as in the old, old days, but for Medicare and Social Security and education funding and highways and management of the environment and the encouragement or discouragement (through tax policy) of nearly every human endeavor.
You bet people want that kind of power over other people, and that, to get it, they’ll move those proverbial mountains.
Our early presidential campaign reflects the accretions of government power over the decades and, correspondingly, the erosion of that space in which humans act out their personal dreams and aspirations.
The campaign is too long because government is too big, and because too many people perforce want to work its levers — substituting their own dreams (if any) for ours. That’s what we ought to notice about the campaign.
Ten to one we don’t. The candidates wouldn’t like it. How much sexier it is, talking of how to use all that power rather than how to dissolve it.
William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.