Courtship and Marriage

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.


About filistro

Filistro is a Canadian writer and prairie dog who maintains burrows on both sides of the 49th parallel. Like all prairie dogs, she is keenly interested in politics and language. (Prairie dogs have been known to build organized towns the size of Maryland, and are the only furry mammal with a documented language.)
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31 Responses to Courtship and Marriage

  1. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    With 2 marriages and 4 relationships that lasted more than a year, I may well need to recuse myself from THIS one. I LIKE that courtship period.

  2. GROG says:

    Max,

    With your wonderful personality, I’m shocked you’ve been married twice. 🙂

  3. shortchain says:

    Ah, but what happens in a marriage when one of the parties has no intention of living up to their vows? Take the example of a serious-minded, honest person who marries such a character. On one side you have somebody trying to live up to the commitments they made, while on the other side you have somebody who simply goes on to the next courtship, and the next, and the next, …

    If American politics is like a marriage that happens every two years (four for the presidency and 6 for a senator), then Canadian or British politics is like an engagement, because either side can call it off (if they manage a vote of “no confidence”). I would point out that, according to current polling in the USA, neither party would be able to withstand a vote of “no confidence” right now, if the populace were actually allowed to vote on such a measure.

    Jack Balkin has written a blog entry that touches on this, if you haven’t seen it.

  4. shiloh says:

    Reagan was married twice, gingrich (3) times, limbaugh (4) times as the party of (((family values))) marches on …

  5. fopplssiegeparty says:

    @shiloh: I always laugh heartily whenever convicted drug abuser and serial monogamist Limbaugh lectures folks on ethical behavior.

  6. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Must be their wonderful personalities that attracts so many women to them, shiloh.

  7. filistro says:

    Jeez… are you guys just going to sit around and gossip? Doesn’t anybody have thoughts about the merits of a single 6-year presidency?

    I think a president could be so much more effective if he didn’t have to start thinking about winning re-election the day after he takes the Oath of Office.

    And without these constant, obscenely expensive elections, America would be less likely to have bought-and-paid for legislators who are in thrall to Big Money. I don’t think they’re all corrupt… they just really need that money for their campaigns.

  8. fopplssiegeparty says:

    Sorry Fili. They are reasonable ideas, but I just don’t see anything like that even being considered until lots of blood has run in the streets.

  9. drfunguy says:

    @ Filistro
    I don’t see how the scheme eliminates perpetual campaigning except for president.
    It will just lengthen the time allowed for that fundraising, likely adding to the advantage of incumbency.

  10. dcpetterson says:

    I would prefer a system such as you described in Canada. The problem with extending the terms in the House or the Senate is that the campaigns would just be made longer to match. I think your assessment — that elected officials would be given some breathing room in which to actually do their jobs — is overoptimistic. You give too much credit to politicians having a conscience.

    As for a single term for the President — as a general rule, I’m against term limits. I would want a Roosevelt to be elected four times. OTOH, I’m very very glad we got rid of Reagan when we did, so as to limit the damage he did. I’m also glad we were able get Clinton in after only four years of Bush 1. So two eight-year terms seem pretty reasonable to me.

    But you raise a great point — that regularly-scheduled elections have led to a constant state of campaign. Which makes your system sound attractive. Have elections only when there is a no-confidence vote, then hold the election six weeks later. Have a maximum term of office for the President (I’d think, from looking at our past, 8 years seems reasonable).

    What we would expect to see, of course, is during times of Democratic majorities, the Republicans would be be calling for a no-confidence vote every week. It would usually fail, but it would be one of their ways of trying to break government (which is a major Republican goal — they claim government does not work, so they do their best to break it to prove their point). So there maybe should be a minimum time between no-confidence votes. No more than one per calendar year? When the Republicans are in charge, of course, this would become the standard time between elections, ans they strive to enlarge their majorities while at the same time getting no work done.

  11. dcpetterson says:

    I don’t want to hijack this thread, but I want to point out a truly brilliant post Max aka Birdpilot made on December 4, 2010 at 05:50 on the Take 2: Could Employing Tax Cuts Tax Employment? thread. Go there and read it. Nothing short of brilliant.

    Now back to your regularly-scheduled thread.

  12. mclever says:

    I’m not sold on filistro’s solution, but I find the analogy compelling. I think if we changed everything from 2-yr to 3-yr cycles, we’d just have 3-yr courtships… Something else needs to change fundamentally about how we do our process.

    Most efforts at Campaign Finance Reform have been trying to get at this problem by either reducing the need for fundraising through public financing or restricting the amount that can be spent. If you can’t spend more than $100K on your House seat, then maybe you’ll be more inclined to save it up for the big push in the final 8 weeks…

    Maybe instead of just “Campaign Finance Reform” we need “Campaign Reform,” but I’m not sure how to implement this without stepping all over First Amendment issues.

  13. dcpetterson says:

    @mclever

    Maybe instead of just “Campaign Finance Reform” we need “Campaign Reform,” but I’m not sure how to implement this without stepping all over First Amendment issues.

    The first thing we have to do is to stop considering corporations to be “people” with First Amendment rights. This would make it possible to greatly restrict the flood of corporate corruption into our political advertising. It may take a Constitutional Amendment, though it shouldn’t, because nothing in the Constitution implies that corporations are “people.” A simple act of Congress should do it, perhaps the Defense of Citizens Act, or DOCA, declaring a person to be one man or one woman.

  14. Bart DePalma says:

    Fili:

    If you are married, I sure hope for your sake it is not analogous to politics.

  15. mclever says:

    dcpetterson makes some good suggestions.

    The idea of a 1-per-year no-confidence vote for Congress could be good. It might create more upheaval, but it might also focus them more on getting things done to avoid the no-confidence. I’m OK with upheaval in the House. I’m not so sure how that would work with the Senate, because I think the process of only replacing at most 1/3 of them at a time is good for the sake of maintaining stability.

    The idea of a President with a max term of 8 yrs minus potential no-confidence votes is interesting. The problem I see is that our electorate is so fickle, that as soon as there’s a problem, we all vote “no confidence”. Consider that many of our most effective Presidents have had long stretches of low approval, especially during their first year or two. So, there’s a crisis and we all vote “no confidence” ushering in the next schmuck in the midst of a disaster, and if things aren’t fixed in 3-6 months, then we’re all screaming “no confidence” again. We’d have a string of 6-month (or 1-year) Presidencies until somehow things magically righted themselves and somebody got to stay on the job for more than a couple of years.

    Unless maybe we established that the no-confidence thingy for Presidents can’t happen within 22 months of a recent election. Perhaps that would slow it down enough to give those in government a chance to accomplish a few things before getting dumped.

    Still, it’s interesting to consider.

  16. mclever says:

    @dcpetterson:

    The first thing we have to do is to stop considering corporations to be “people” with First Amendment rights.

    I completely agree there! Corporate Personhood is a legal travesty!

  17. filistro,

    The downside of being unable to stand for reelection is that it decreases the incentive to fulfill the wishes of the electorate. This is diminished somewhat by the party system, but not entirely.

  18. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    There is a MUCH simpler solution:

    1) Pass an Amendment defining Constitutional rights as being ONLY bestowed on born human persons, expressly NOT to created legal entities. Legal entities, created by legislative action, are limited to “rights allowed by legislatures.

    2) Increase Congressional compensation to some amount higher than currently paid but sufficient for an individual to maintain homes and offices in both DC and back home and well support a family. No other compensation of ANY sort is allowed under penalty of loss of office and any retirement and other benefits and a clawback of that compensation, plus jail time.

    3) Public financing of elections. Say $3 per registered voter in district for primary and $10 per registered voter in general. No other advertising in favor of, or against, either a candidate or party.

    4) No office holder or their immediate family may work for, either with or without compensation, for any company or lobbying agency, for a period of 8 years after leaving office under penalty of clawback of any compensation and jail time.

    Both 2) and 3) are indexed to inflation, adjusted every 5 years.

  19. shiloh says:

    We had this discussion a couple times at Joker’s and as mentioned, changing the time frame of elected offices has no effect on the $$$ pouring in from special interest groups. It’s always gonna be there. One just has to hope there’s more Harry the buck stops here! Truman politicians, than Duke Cunningham/William frozen assets Jefferson shysters.

    America’s big problem is the intelligence, lack thereof of its voters who are easily influenced by lies/misinformation and that will never change, unfortunately ie human nature.

    >

    The Reps are probably regretting their insistence on the Twenty-second Amendment as nowadays who in their right mind would wanna be president for more than (8) years.

    ok, many politicians are already crazy! 😀

  20. mclever says:

    @dcpetterson

    A simple act of Congress should do it, perhaps the Defense of Citizens Act, or DOCA, declaring a person to be one man or one woman.

    One man or one woman… What about artificial intelligences or other intelligent life forms? We don’t want to be species-ist (specist? specious?) in our definition of “person”, do we? 😉

  21. I suspect that the only way to get such an amendment to pass is if a person is defined as becoming such at the moment of conception.

  22. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    WHAT??? “truly brilliant” did you say, dc??

    I must have still been hung over.

    fili: You will note no mention of concurrent or consecutive as per relationships in the earlier comment on this post. Deponent sayeth not whilst under oath.

  23. mclever says:

    Max,

    Your suggestions are good and sound. Some might quibble with the exact amounts, but I think you’re headed down the right path. For example, perhaps there should be a min/max dollar amount regardless of the size of the district. Or, perhaps 8 years is too restrictive on lobbying activity. These things can be negotiated. I think you’ve offered a good starting point.

    The only problem with #3 (No other advertising in favor of, or against, either a candidate or party.) is that is restricting speech, so it would have to be worded/crafted very carefully to avoid First Amendment issues.

  24. dcpetterson says:

    @mclever

    “No-confidence” votes generally take place in the legislature, not as a public referendum. This would somewhat lessen the whims of a fickle public not giving sufficient time for unpopular (but effective) policies to do the good they were designed to do.

    What about artificial intelligences or other intelligent life forms? We don’t want to be species-ist (specist? specious?) in our definition of “person”, do we? 😉

    You are so tempting me to provide glimpses into the novel I’m working on right now ..

  25. dcpetterson says:

    @Max aka Birdpilot

    Your suggestions, 1-4 are all certainly worth considering, and they all move in the right direction.

    And yes, I was hung over, but that’s beside the point.

  26. shortchain says:

    Hey, what’s up with comments getting lost completely — no error message, no nothing — and then showing up hours later?

    Delete any two of my three comments, please. I don’t want them cluttering up the place…

  27. shortchain,

    For some reason, those got caught by the spam filter. I found them and retrieved them. It’s really rare for the filter on this site to have false-positives (unlike our previous venue), but it does happen occasionally.

  28. filistro says:

    I’m still curious… IS there any other large country that holds pre-scheduled elections at specified intervals?

  29. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    For those interested, apparently my log-in to wordpress expired sometime overnight. Then, when I tried to comment on this thread, the spam filter seems to have spasmed.

    I logged back in to wordpress, and was able to post comments.

    This is, of course, only evidence of correlation — no attempt to establish a causality relationship is stated or implied. (Wouldn’t want to upset anybody for making an unsubstantiated claim, you know.)

  30. MoldyMe says:

    Forget DOCA. If you can vote in an election, you can contribute $$. Corporations can’t vote, unions can’t vote, PACs can’t vote, etc… Anyone see any First Amendment issues here?

  31. dcpetterson says:

    @MoldyMe

    Forget DOCA. If you can vote in an election, you can contribute $$.

    That sounds like an excellent suggestion. The difficulty with that is buying advertising time. There would have to be some rule about individuals banding together to purchase ads.

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