Saturday, January 19, 2019

Running for President

In 1960, John . Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 2. Eight years later, his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, announced his candidacy on March 16. Such a timetable would, of course, be inconceivable today. Already in January 2019, several candidates have publicly declared themselves for the 2020 Democratic nomination, and numerous other potential candidates are waiting in the wings and may soon announce themselves. Not all these candidates are equally plausible, of course, but everyone seems to take it for granted that this business of announcing a year ahead of time is somehow necessary. Which, sadly, seems to be true.

For this sorry state of affairs, we can blame the media, of course, and the 24-hour news cycle and the internet age, etc. We can also blame the decline of political parties - in particular, the decline of party nominating conventions. In Kennedy's day, the goal was to amass sufficient support to win at the party's convention. Nowadays, the convention is largely just a formality, the winner having emerged earlier from a series of primaries and caucuses, which have conspired to advance the process chronologically, while also - by taking the decision-making away from experienced party leaders and giving it to increasingly ideologically motivated primary voters and caucus goers - has helped push both parties farther to their respective extremes, which catastrophic consequences for governance.

What is to be done? Not much. The train has long since left the station. We are in for a long campaign. and, if past experience provides any precedent, we can count on the coverage to focus on ephemeral matters - remember the media's disastrous obsession with Hillary Clinton's emails - and to do little to move the nation toward creating a climate out of which effective governing will be likely to result. Ultimately, we voters are the culprits, having signaled in so many ways that this is, above all, an entertainment culture, in which we have settled comfortably into the role of consumers instead of citizens with moral responsibilities to one another and to the common good.

Meanwhile basic government functions are not getting done. Even when the government has not been shutdown, Congress has continued to abdicate its responsibilities, and the media and the voters have continued to treat politics as a spectator sport rather than as a vehicle for coming together to govern the country.

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