We all know the difference between courtship and marriage. Courtship is an exciting, heady time, a veritable whirlwind of possibilities. It’s time consuming, expensive, exhausting and wonderful. We spend our time making and hearing big promises, presenting ourselves at our best, trying hard to please. Men hold their stomachs in, keep their living spaces tidy and pretend to enjoy foreign films. Women wear uncomfortable push-up bras, shave their legs every day and pretend to enjoy football. The future is shiny and bright, and this time it’s going to be great.
Then comes marriage, and sober reality. There are debts to pay, disappointments to endure, new families to adjust to, and eventually a throng of small people for whom we are endlessly responsible. Life changes from a series of adventures to a litany of problems. And yet within marriage lies real opportunity for growth and advancement. Managing debt teaches financial prudence, disappointments foster creative adaptation, disagreements stimulate accommodation and responsibility creates maturity. Two people learn how they can pool their efforts to build a solid, satisfying life.
I think campaigning and governing are analogous to courtship and marriage. Campaigns are exciting, treacherous, vibrant times, fraught with lies we style as “promises.” They are are mad episodes in the life story of most countries, mercifully short periods of reckless spending and wretched excess that are soon replaced by the boring necessity of responsible governance.
Except in the United States. Like a serial philanderer, America lurches from one courtship to the next with barely a pause to drink the champagne and taste the wedding cake. There’s a brief honeymoon (often spoiled by rainy weather), a few nights of crazy sex and later some bitter accusations: “You’re not at all what I thought you were…” “Oh yeah…well you said you had your student loans all paid off…” And then the country is off on its next courtship.
This is because America for some reason schedules its elections in advance, as if they were Olympic Games. I’m not a specialist in political science or comparative government…but does any other large country do this? Canada is a parliamentary democracy rather than a republic, and its system is strikingly different. During a Canadian federal election, candidates from various parties run for seats from every riding in the country. The party gaining the most seats forms the government, and the leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. The PM and his party have a mandate for no more than five years, after which an election must be held. However, elections can be called at any time during the five-year term…if the PM feels it’s a good time because he’s up in the polls, if he wants a new mandate for a particular large policy, or if his government has been toppled by a successful vote of no-confidence.
When the PM drops the writ for an election, a date is set six weeks in the future and the campaign is on. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s all over in little more than a month. The new government is seated, and the business of governing begins again.
People who are opposed to the perpetual campaign that occurs in the United States have proposed various solutions. One is the single six-year presidential term…and this is one of my favorite serious discussions on the topic, dating back 30 years.
Along with the single six-year term, many propose that Senate terms become nine years, staggered at three year intervals, with Congress completely changing every three years. New campaigns would not begin as soon as the old lawn signs were taken down. Politicians would not be forced to begin fund-raising the day after they’re sworn in. The bribes of lobbyists would be somewhat less tempting. Lawmakers would have time to learn their jobs and get to know their constituents. America would exchange the wild excitement of perpetual courtship for the quieter comforts and benefits of marriage.
It’s worth thinking about. Constantly buying flowers, shaving your legs every day and wondering all the time if you’re being lied to… that’s a really exhausting way to live your life.