Thursday, May 24, 2018
Opinion

On elections, why not follow the French?

You could be forgiven if it feels like the 2012 presidential election season has been in full force since, oh, about 1952. It never ends, does it?

In this country it seems candidates don't just embrace the notion they must define their opponents as gutless, craven, unpatriotic, liberal tools of Washington special interests. They also believe you need to be reminded of these shortcomings 24 hours a day.

Of late things have taken an even more bizarre tone with Mitt Romney insisting he is completely, totally, severely, congenitally conservative. Newt Gingrich has compared himself to (take a breath): Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Charles de Gaulle, Henry Clay, the Duke of Wellington, Mahatma Gandhi, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and the Wright brothers. And that was before lunch.

Meanwhile Rick Santorum, when he wasn't trying to dredge up those "Barack Obama is really a closeted Muslim" canards, hinted global warming is nothing more than a fad on the order of Hula Hoops, Nehru jackets and mood rings.

And we still have a good eight months to go of phony negative commercials produced by shadowy groups like Americans for the Freedom to Be Dumber Than a Sack of Sea Slugs, or the Committee for Truth-Free Propaganda.

There must be a better way to select the leader of the free world. And there is. Couldn't we be more like (and this will probably get the Villages twitching more than Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet) the French?

It was only a few days ago that French President Nicolas Sarkozy officially announced he plans to run for re-election. The first round of presidential voting is April 22, a mere two months away.

Two months? That's it? Sheesh, it took two months just to translate Rick Perry's stump speech.

Apparently the French believe it only takes 60 days to evaluate Sarkozy's last five years in office and judge whether he deserves another term. Besides, the French have more important things to do — like enjoying all that wine and fabulous cheese, dressing well and having affairs — to get too preoccupied with presidential politics.

In this country, presidential campaigns are virtual full-time affairs beginning the day the incumbent takes the oath of office, with endless debates, commercials loaded with lies and a competition among the candidates to see who can out-crazy the others.

Other nations such as Britain also have much shorter election windows. But not here, where selecting a president becomes The Gong Show meets "The Trail of Smears."

Would it be such a terrible thing to emulate the French? Really now, no one is suggesting we all have to start talking like Gerard Depardieu.

In the interests of time and preserving our collective sanity, would it be so outrageous to have a national primary around the first of September, followed a week or so later by the party conventions, followed by a series of two or three debates in October before ending with the presidential election on Nov. 6?

After almost two years of nonstop campaigning, given the barrage of super-secret/super PAC negative advertising, as well as the candidates' aversion to saying anything remotely imaginative for fear of being attacked, is the public truly any better informed than it would be if we followed the French lead?

After all, up to this point, no one would confuse the intellectual firepower on sputtering display in the Republican primary with the Age of Enlightenment. Marathon verbosity isn't the same thing as intellectually honest political discourse.

Of course, shortening the dysfunctional presidential election cycle will never happen. There's too much money at stake for campaign advertising buys, political consultant fees and the desire of hidden power brokers to influence the outcome to permit a change in the system. And besides, there's the whole French association to make it unpalatable.

Still it never hurts to dream.

As Bogart once said: "We'll always have Paris."

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