As we make painfully slow progress towards a final outcome in the American presidential elections, let us pose some rhetorical questions for intellectual reflection.
Does our unique American electoral process have to be the way it is now?
Should we consider reform of our electoral protocols to devise a more streamlined process with a much shorter time cycle and reduced campaign expenditure?
Would the streamlined process used by most democratic nations around the world work well for us too?
Our current system does eventually elect a president but does it really secure the best leader ? Other leaders from around the world very effectively make their pick with a much shorter electioneering period. It is also notable that other democratic countries seem to transition their national leaders without the massive campaign expenditures accured by our presidential aspirant during the year-long primary then followed by an equally slow xnational campaign.
Consider the ironic outcome of our long and arduos 2000 and 2004 elections. They eventually gave us a singularly ineffective president: George W. Bush. His performance grade is now a D+ or C- if we interpret opinion polling results and opinions from expert analysts. (I admit that this does contradict the automatic “A” grade that Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and their auto-pilot followers would grant to their esteemed Dubbya.)
So what then are the possible options available to us, if we do want to explore the proposition that perhaps of other nations’ parliamentary systems merits intellectual consideration?
If we examine the electoral process in countries like Great Britain, Canada and Australia, we find the following attributes, where some elements may be appealing:
The prime minister (with power and roles similar to an American president) is elected on the basis of being the leader of the party with the clear majority of elected members of parliament. If the prime minister’s performance declines, the party can replace him or her during the term of office, by invoking a motion of no-confidence or voluntary resignation.
In these nations, elections are held during a campaign cycle of about two months with intense campaigning on the basis of a “published manifesto” deployment of moderate (but adequate) campaign funds, thus avoiding the apparent American voter fatigue.
The prime minister and his entire cabinet remain contnually accountable to the electorate; incisive questions can be posed by any of the elected representatives on designated days every week when parliament is in session, during a prime minister’s question time, with immediate answers required from the PM or members of the cabinet.
Let us recall the events of the past two years of the American election season as we consider how we could reform this process.
Consider the millions and millions of dollars (contributed by a plurality of the electorate and lobbyists) that have arguably been wasted during the primaries to finally come up with two major-party candidates (and the irrelevant also-ran third party dudes). Was that hullabaloo really worth it in terms of bang-for-the-buck?
Consider too the hours and hours spent by so many people in the nation attending rallies and reading and watching the constant media coverage. After all that, have we truly picked the crŠme-de-la-crŠme, in terms of talent and capability? If your answer is YES, can you truly justify that stance in absolute terms?
The purpose of this introspective soliloquy is not to denigrate our system or to question the wisdom of America’s founding fathers. Rather, it is to pose a question on the efficacy of our current system. Perhaps there is scope for improvement, without weakening the system’s integrity or the robustness of our sound democracy. In case anyone misconstrues my observations as “heresy,” I pre-empt any such misunderstanding by stating that I am a patriotic American and sincerely proud of my adopted nation. I admire our democracy and it continues to be the envy of many around the world. With that caveat, I leave you with my questions as food for thought at a time of electioneering induced voter fatigue.
Unny Menon is an industrial and manufacturing engineering professor and a Mustang Daily guest columnist.