There seems to be only one year that is not an election year and that is the first year of a new president’s first term. Note to future presidents: Get your governing done in those initial 12 months; after that, it’s all politics, all the time.
The second year of a term, the opposition party is gearing up for congressional elections. The third year, the next presidential campaign swings into gear with candidates jockeying for money and attention and lining up for the first slate of pre-primary debates. Year four, it’s months of primaries, two conventions, three major debates and the main event, the fall campaign.
If a president is lucky enough to win a second term, there is no second honeymoon. Within days, pundits will start speculating about who is going to run the next time, while Washington insiders begin to whisper about the lame duck in the White House.
Barack Obama’s seventh year in office is about to commence and the president is facing the unhappy prospect of dealing with big Republican majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the other annoyance he must contend with is the sound of eight or more presidential candidates revving the engines of their campaign machines and drowning out sober discussion of ideas that could be implemented if only people would knuckle down and get to work.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Campaigns are fun. Governing is hard. Campaigns are filled with passion and unintentional comedy and melodrama and high hopes that something big will happen once victory is won. Governing offers the chance to do those big things, but it takes a willingness to compromise, accept less than is desired and admit that the folks on other side are actually not the devils they were made out to be in the campaign. So, who wants to govern? It’s a lot easier to get stoked for the next money-saturated, ego-boosting, soundbite-driven battle for the fickle hearts and distracted minds of the voters.
This time around, the Republicans have a diverse batch of candidates who appear to have a little more promise than the clown car of candidates who came to the circus four years ago. Remember weird and wide-eyed Michele Bachmann? The wandering hands of Herman Cain? The “Oops” moment of Rick Perry? Well, Perry may be back for more pratfalls and his fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, will pick up spouting the shrill tea party message where Bachmann left off. But there’s also a Bush in the bunch -- ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- who seems to be the smarter sibling among the Bush brothers. There’s Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a guy who is occasionally a bit kooky but whose libertarian bent makes him a dove on issues of war and peace and downright enlightened about the American legal system’s obscenely high incarceration rate. And there’s Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has youth appeal but needs to prove he is finally ready to play in the big leagues.
At least two GOP governors are likely to run: New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Christie will test whether America is ready to elect a chubby tough guy who plays politics like it’s roller derby. Walker is about as colorful as an Amway salesman, but he’s fought public employees’ unions in his state and won more than once.
Waiting in the wings are the two men who took it to the wire last time -- Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney still cannot believe that he lost last time when all his pollsters said he should be picking out a new carpet for the Oval Office. He clearly wants another shot, but he may be edged out of the GOP establishment’s largesse by Bush or Christie. Little has been heard of Santorum lately, but he has kept an organization together for the last two years and, if there is an opening on the right, God will probably tell him to run.
And the Democrats? They’ve got Hillary. Not exactly a deep bench, but a presidential race is not a team sport. All you need is one superstar. The huge question for the D’s is whether HRC is a woman destined to break the biggest glass ceiling of them all, or a stale brand that has been on the shelf too long.
I believe campaigns that never stop are bad for the country, but, as I have confessed before, I’m always a bit thrilled when a new troop of eager egos steps up to fight for the prize. All but one of them will fail in humiliating and hilarious ways. The lone survivor will then have the chance to be vilified for four years until we do it all again.
Democracy may be a crazy way to run a country, but, as a spectator sport, it can’t be beat.