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A better use for American elections

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 23, 2004

The American government, unlike most democracies, provides specific times for elections: the entire House of Representatives is elected every two years; one third of the Senate is elected every two years; the president is elected every four years.

The British, our old, close ally, hold parliamentary elections at least once every five years, but elections can be called almost anytime the government appears to lack the confidence of the House of Commons and even the five year required is simply statutory: Parliament could repeal that, indeed repeal even elections themselves.

While our American system has many strengths - the American President is second only to the French President in power - it is also important to remember what the Founding Fathers did not intend. The president was supposed to be a figure that transcended other differences within the nation. His most important job was protecting us from those who threatened us.

This requires consensus and not bickering. The Founding Fathers also considered the right to have contested elections an opportunity and not an obligation. Nothing in our system of government demands that we have a hotly contested presidential race every four years.

Political parties - which were one of the great fears of the Founding Fathers - have invented this "obligation" for voters because partisans wish parties to be centers of American civic and policy activity. Parties live to contend.

Sometimes that works well. In 1988, as the Cold War was nearly won, Americans had an opportunity to reflect on the general direction of government. The election served this purpose. In 1992, after Desert Storm, the nation again had a chance to reflect and change. Like it or not - they did.

These elections resembled, as much as anything else, grand gubernatorial elections. They did no harm and may have done some good. But the regularity of our elections means that the humdrum domestic issues and genuinely vital issues of national survival may both coincide with a presidential election. When that happens, all true Americans must seriously consider whether a competitive election serves any good purpose. A cursory view of American history provides some clues.

The Revolutionary War had no national elections. The Civil War had a presidential election with one third of the nation not voting, and the press of that election may have led to unnecessary actions (e.g. the March through Georgia) to ensure Lincoln's reelection.

Wendell Willkie
Willkie

Wendell Willkie in 1940 was the penultimate "Me Too" Republican, who quickly after his defeat became Roosevelt's envoy around the world. An indication of the dubious value of Republicans even fielding a candidate for president is clear when the nation chose to elect FDR for an unprecedented third term (and later a fourth term.)

Today, America is in a war for survival. Why, then, do Democrats feel compelled to field a candidate against President Bush? If they believe he is the real enemy and Osama bin Ladin and the rest are not, then they should say so.

But if Democrats know that President Bush is confronting our common enemy, who wishes to destroy our cities, terrorize our people, and destabilize our society and which seeks this conquest by manipulating our party politics, then Democrats must decide where their true loyalties lie.

If those Democrats are Americans first and Democrats second, then they should pass a resolution at their convention something like this:

"We disagree with the Bush Administration on many issues of domestic and social policy. We also have different opinions on how best to prosecute the war on terror. But we recognize that the enemy in this war are not Republicans or President Bush, but rather those terrorists and terrorist nations which hate America.

"Therefore, we deliberately choose not to nominate a Democratic candidate for president or vice president in the 2004 election. We strongly encourage the Bush Administration to develop a bipartisan Council of War to be consulted and to advise on the course of this war.

"We also ask the President, in response to our public commitment not to oppose his reelection, to provide without reservation any information not classified and not compromising our national security, which will allow the American people to fully understand this war.

"We take this action because our first duty is our nation and not to our party, and because we recognize that America cannot lose this war and survive. The day will come, and soon we hope, in which the vigorous and principled debate of lesser issues will be possible. But that day is not now."

There are other uses for our elections beyond partisan quarrels for the sake of quarrels. American elections can be a wonderful way of showing the greater unity of the American people. The sooner those who hate us see our resolve as a people, the sooner this horrible war will end.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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