Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



The role of an opposition party in any democracy, it's argued, is to oppose the party in power. This is so during most election campaigns, but the United States is in a class by itself. What makes the American case unique is the intense focus on a multitude of candidates, the need to raise large funding for campaigns, and the seemingly non-stop television coverage devoted to the process.

Nowhere else in the world do political campaigns start nearly two years before a general election In Great Britain they last about six weeks from the time an election is called. In countries that have the parliamentary system, like Britain, Germany, Canada, and many other countries, the prime minister steps down when his party or coalition loses its parliamentary majority.

In Canada last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called national elections for October 19, and the campaign for parliamentary seats will last an "unprecedented" eleven weeks, a marathon some Canadians call it. In Germany, Angela Merkel remains chancellor as long as her Conservative coalition, together with the Social Democrats, holds a majority in the Bundestag, Because new elections are required by law in 2017, the jockeying for public support will begin early but last only a few months, not twenty as we have this year.

A major reason for the early start is the imperative to raise huge amounts of campaign funds, much of it from wealthy contributors. "Billionaires Put their Stamp on Campaign," headlined the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 1). The paper reported that some 40 of the wealthiest Americans were "plowing $60 million into PACS aligned with the top tier of presidential contenders."

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush reportedly are the leading fund-raisers in the 2016 race and frontrunners for their parties' nominating conventions a year from now. Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon, plans to fund his own campaign for the Republican nomination. There seems no limit to donors who want to influence the election outcome. Unless Congress is willing to limit the size of PAC contributions, or the Supreme Court revisits its ruling that money is equivalent to free speech, change is unlikely to occur soon.

Another reason campaigns get ever longer is the television industry's financial interest in playing up and analyzing whatever candidates say about the issues, and about each other -- the nastier the better for ratings. In recent weeks, Donald Trump dominated TV news coverage by making nasty remarks about Mexican immigrants, and castigating his Republican rivals. He became a rising star in the presidential campaign because the media, specifically TV News, highlighted his outrageous statements. His refusal to apologize for his outbursts is viewed by some as a strength.

Not to be outdone by Donald Trump, former Governor Mike Huckabee characterized Secretary of State John Kerry as a "Pontius Pilate" for condemning Israel "to the door of the oven," (alluding to the World War Holocaust) because of the Iran nuclear deal. Instead of burying the story, it was reported as campaign news. by some papers and television. President Obama denounced Huckabee's statements.

A primary reason for the television industry’s promotion of the early start to campaigning is its desire to increase TV viewership and attract an abundance of commercial advertising to enhance the bottom line. Early sponsorship of so-called debates, as demonstrated last week by Fox Cable News, serves this financial objective. But the industry's greatest benefit from the long campaign is the millions of dollars spent to promote the candidates' credentials. Large contributions by billionaires pays off handsomely for the television networks.

Is there a way to reduce the length of time it takes to select a Republican and Democratic nominee, and permit them to have serious debates on the issues just before the November 2016 election?

A simple way is turning off the TV, or switching channels, when the program is devoted to campaign news. Perhaps when the primaries are held early next year, it may be useful to learn who were the winners and losers. But the real campaign begins only when one person is picked by each party, a whole year from now. In the meantime, most of us would probably spend our time more fruitfully by enjoying our hobbies, reading good books, and enjoying quality time with our families and friends.

File last modified on Monday, 07-AUG-2015 10:54 AM EST

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