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Is it time to change how we campaign for President?

Fri, Feb 22nd, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Eight months until November 4th! Can we bear it?

How many of us are honestly sick of political ads, phone calls, polls, attacks, claims, and sound bites?

Maybe it is time to consider putting some limits on how we campaign for president ?

There have been minor efforts and legislation in the past to put in place spending limits for political campaigns. Candidates may choose to tap into a small fund to help with campaign expenses.

However, candidates with private fortunes can elect not to take any government help, and spend as much of their own money as they wish. This prevents some candidates who might be qualified from choosing to run because they aren't multi-millionaires.

Even with the campaign finance guidelines, there are many ways to get outside funds, to support campaigns. The amounts being spent in presidential campaigns, and also for senatorial positions, and governorships are obscene.

Think of just the humanitarian and infrastructure uses for which those untold millions of dollars could be better spent.

Some European countries have put limits not only on the spending, but on the length of political campaigns. An older woman whom I visit suggested that we give each candidate one-half hour of free TV time in which to state their most passionate ideas, suggested changes, and strong points.

She thought that was plenty of time. I don't suggest curtailing the exposure to quite that short a time frame, but surely two or three months before party conventions would be plenty. As it is now, potential candidates begin their posturing and jostling and pushing of agendas almost before the ink has dried on the results of the previous election.

Of course, to have desirable outcome in the race, citizens would need to research into a candidate's past voting record, bills sponsored, and personal achievements. We would need to listen to/read the entire speeches and publications and reports. Presently, many people are only familiar with the constantly-repeated, media-selected, sound-bites, a poor way to really know where each candidate stands.

Another time issue is that most candidates for national office are serving in an elected office and are absent from deliberations and decisions that need to be made.

Another possible limit would be to the amount of air time and amount spent on political advertising. This limit would increase the possibility of a level playing field for all. Several good presidential candidates were almost overlooked in this race. Perhaps we could place all ads within a half-hour time block each day, with opposing candidates' ads grouped together to facilitate comparison. That would make it easy to opt out of watching if one wished.

It might be beneficial to limit polls. Polls are easy to skew and can have undue influence on people's choices. The exit polls during elections, which are now somewhat restricted, have had great influence on voting in the past. And who among us is not tired of phone calls about issues and candidates and contributions?

It would seem to be a refreshing relief if we could restrict some of these practices. I do not see this as infringing on free speech. Perhaps limits might even make the presentations more effective and acceptable. Such limits could make it possible for a greater variety of able men and women to run for office.

While I am thinking primarily of the presidential campaigns in this 2008, many of my proposals could be helpful in state races, right down to local elections.

Each of you readers will have opinions on these suggestions, pro and con. You may have your own modifications or new points to add. Maybe we could influence future campaigns. I suspect that changes would be a relief to a large percentage of us.

As the TV ad says: "Think about it."

Jeanne Martin of Mabel is a regular Journal contributor.

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