One must wonder what our country’s governing system looks like to an outsider observing our political process at work for the first time. I am reminded of Andy Griffith and his classic comedy routine called, “What it was, was football.” At the end of his presentation he concluded that football was a bunch of fellows fighting over a pumpkin while being supervised by several convicts. In truth, had he applied his simple logic to our election process he might have been pretty close to right.
In our history we used to have a political party convention in August of each election year where a presidential candidate would be nominated. That candidate then would campaign for the next three months and wait up through election night to see the election results.
On the day after the election everything would go back to normal in the news media while we awaited inauguration day in January when the newly elected president would take office. Today, with party primaries in multiple states and delegates pledged to various candidates months before the election, the party nomination is secured before the convention ever meets. Unfortunately, the poor candidates suspend their lives and spend millions of dollars. They travel from state to state for a year and more before the election in an attempt to gather enough delegate votes to be their party’s representative at next November’s election. And, our airwaves are cluttered up for a year with all of that rhetoric, much of it very negative.
How do other countries do it? There are about as many approaches as there are countries. In England, Canada, India and other Parliamentary democracy countries their chief executive officer, called a Prime Minister, is chosen from the top leadership of the political party in power after the elections are over. In short, the people elect the party, the platform, the policies, and then the party selects the administrator most qualified to carry out those platforms and policies for the country.
In both the U.S. and England political parties are at work. However, despite the efforts of the political parties to establish a platform that will express their philosophy to the people it all seems to get lost in the rhetoric of the campaign. More and more we hear a candidate say, “If I am elected President, I will do this or I will do that.” Candidates tells us what HE/SHE is going do without regard for the fact that no one in Washington DC does anything alone.
The successful President is one who can convince others their perspective is the right direction for the country and enlists them to carry that message to Congress where the laws for governance of the country are created.
I am reminded of Lieutenant Governor David O’neal of the State of Illinois who was elected to office with much fanfare in 1981. Six months later he resigned. When questioned as regards his resignation he said, “There is nothing to do in this office. The state should abolish it.”
I suspect that there, indeed, was much to do, but it was obvious that he did not know how to go about fulfilling his Constitutional duties.
Too often a candidate sees election to political office as being elevated to a power/control position. Too late they realize that their role is to serve the public good and to do that effectively they need to bring others along with them who actually have a vote in the both Congress and Legislature that makes the laws that govern the land. Even local offices such as Board members of the County or City Council have real authority only when they are sitting as members of the Board, and then they have only one vote among the membership.
I’m sure Winston Churchill was right when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
But, as my father used to say, “What a mess.”
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.