Just finished my 2nd cigar and putting this night to bed.
Oh well. My intentions were sound. :)
DURHAM, N.C. — By Tuesday night about 90 million Americans will have cast ballots in an election that’s almost certain to create greater partisan divisions, increase gridlock and render governance of our complex nation even more difficult. Ninety million sounds like a lot, but that means that less than 40 percent of the electorate will bother to vote, even though candidates, advocacy groups and shadowy “super PACs” will have spent more than $1 billion to air more than two million ads to influence the election.
There was a time when midterm elections made sense — at our nation’s founding, the Constitution represented a new form of republican government, and it was important for at least one body of Congress to be closely accountable to the people. But especially at a time when Americans’ confidence in the ability of their government to address pressing concerns is at a record low, two-year House terms no longer make any sense. We should get rid of federal midterm elections entirely.
There are few offices, at any level of government, with two-year terms. Here in Durham, we elect members of the school board and the county sheriff to terms that are double that length. Moreover, Twitter, ubiquitous video cameras, 24-hour cable news and a host of other technologies provide a level of hyper-accountability the framers could not possibly have imagined. In the modern age, we do not need an election every two years to communicate voters’ desires to their elected officials.
But the two-year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American politics.
The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation. Since the end of World War II, the president’s party has on average lost 25 seats in the House and about 4 in the Senate as a result of the midterms. This is a bipartisan phenomenon — Democratic presidents have lost an average of 31 House seats and between 4 to 5 Senate seats in midterms; Republican presidents have lost 20 and 3 seats, respectively.
The realities of the modern election cycle are that we spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda.
These effects are compounded by our grotesque campaign finance system. House members in competitive races have raised, on average, $2.6 million for the 2014 midterm. That amounts to $3,600 raised a day — seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Surveys show that members spend up to 70 percent of their time fund-raising during an election year. Two years later, they’ll have to do it all again.
As time increases, time to raise money does not increase.Much of this money is sought from either highly partisan wealthy individuals or entities with vested interests before Congress. Eliminating midterms would double the amount of time House members could focus on governing and make them less dependent on their donor base.
Another quirk is that, during midterm elections, the electorate has been whiter, wealthier, older and more educated than during presidential elections. Biennial elections require our representatives to take this into account, appealing to one set of voters for two years, then a very different electorate two years later.
There’s an obvious, simple fix, though. The government should, through a constitutional amendment, extend the term of House members to four years and adjust the term of senators to either four or eight years, so that all elected federal officials would be chosen during presidential election years. Doing so would relieve some (though, of course, not all) of the systemic gridlock afflicting the federal government and provide members of Congress with the ability to focus more time and energy on governance instead of electioneering.
This adjustment would also give Congress the breathing space to consider longer-term challenges facing the nation — such as entitlement spending, immigration and climate change — that are either too complex or politically toxic to tackle within a two-year election cycle.
To offset the impact of longer congressional terms, this reform might be coupled with term limits that would cap an individual’s total congressional service at, say, 24 years, about the average for a member of Congress today. This would provide members enough time to build experience in the job, but also limit the effects of incumbency and ensure the circulation of new blood in the system.
That amendment part is still pretty cool though.The framers included an amendment process in the Constitution so our nation could adjust the system to meet the demands of a changing world. Surely they would not be pleased with the dysfunction, partisan acrimony and public dissatisfaction that plague modern politics. Eliminating the midterm elections would be one small step to fixing our broken system.
If you can’t take some joy, some modicum of relief and mirth, in the unprecedentedly spectacular beclowning of the president, his administration, its enablers, and, to no small degree, liberalism itself, then you need to ask yourself why you’re following politics in the first place.