The endless campaign
I noted earlier that the beltway isn’t used to dealing with politicians who say what they mean. That’s starting to include some bloggers writing about Palin’s campaign announcement. She’s been saying for a while now that her announcement will come by the end of September. Complaining about “dithering” at the beginning of September just makes you impatient. It’s not “dithering” or “teasing” to announce a milestone and stick to it. That’s pretty much the opposite of either dithering or teasing.1
Complaining of “dithering” or “teasing” or “fatigue”, because one candidate is following their announced milestones without acknowledging the announced milestones that candidate has put out in the open, is disingenuous at best. There is no dithering or teasing yet, and any fatigue is your own fault: she said by the end of September, and she said she wanted to see if any of the early entrants will support small government constitutionalism. It isn’t the end of September, and the early entrants are still stepping up. Any impatience on your part is your own problem.
The very recent trend towards announcing well before September—January of the year before rather than January of the year of—is not a good one. I’m generally inclined against long campaigns because I’ve seen what they become. If campaigns were actually a fight on the battleground of policy, I’d say make them as long as possible, but they’re not. The moment candidates announce, they stop talking about specific policies and start talking about generalities. You can’t fix anything or reverse mistakes in generalities. You can only fix and repeal in specifics.
On a personal level, I cheerfully admit to wanting every candidate to declare early and stay in the race a long time, because they give me stuff to write about. I admire those like Herman Cain who got into the race early, and put all their cards right on the table. Institutionally, I worry that a late entry followed by victory will form a new conventional wisdom for 2016 and beyond, in which the early primary season is dismissed as a forlorn bullpen for hopeless wannabes.
I highlighted his “new conventional wisdom”, because that’s backward. It’s the current pattern of announcing very early that’s new. Endless campaigns are a relatively new feature of politics—and new enough that they’re not completely conventional wisdom even yet. If I thought Hayward was right that longer campaigns add vigor rather than remove it, I’d agree with him. But my experience is that they do not. The sooner the primary starts, the sooner politicians stop vigorously defending their positions. They try as hard as possible not to have any positions. We end up trying to decide who looks presidential rather than who is presidential.
The endless campaign is what Barack Obama’s been doing: staying out of every fight and letting the Democratic congress handle it, so that he won’t get tied down on specifics. That’s not the model I’d like to see conventional wisdom move toward in the future. I’d rather see specifics start becoming a part of campaigns. To the extent that it’s not going to happen, I want campaigns to stay short.
Of course Romney’s ducking and covering: he’s playing the moderate, compromised, no-sacred-cow-butchery game that he thinks will win. Can’t fault him, but I don’t support him. This is precisely the non-approach to tackling our problems that is almost guaranteed to perpetuate them.
On the other hand, you have an undeclared possible candidate who is setting about gathering the required mandate to, you know, do something, and being met with sputtering imagination from the audience.
Ultimately, we need elected officials who will do what needs to be done to restore fiscal sanity. That’s not going to happen in generalities.
Update: On the way back from the bar after writing this, I saw a sign in a sushi bar window advertising “Budweiser: The Difference is Drinkability”. That’s it right there. Before they announce their “product” they’re willing to talk about what they’re made of, what they’re going to do differently, what needs to be done for real improvement. As soon as they’re officially trying to sell themselves, the difference is drinkability.
In response to What is the purpose of a politician?: Is the purpose of a politician to hold political office? Or is the purpose of a politician to do right by their constituents?
Teasing would be saying “no, no, no” while your actions say “yes, yes, yes”, and then finally announcing. I don’t hold this against Perry, because that’s standard politics. But it’s also teasing.↑