Endless political campaigning is a curse for America

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — Why do Washington, D.C., politics seem like an endless episode of a Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon, each party obsessed with bashing the other on a daily basis? Are you already sick of hearing about the U.S. presidential election? Do you have to strain to remember a time when there wasn’t a presidential campaign going on?

You’re not wrong. American political campaigns don’t end anymore. There is no longer a time of relative calm after an election, with partisan politics giving way to level-headed governance. And this needs to change, because it’s destroying the country.

Did you know that the White House has an email account that routinely sends out updates to subscribers? If you signed up for a nonpartisan compendium of all the latest policy initiatives from America’s executive branch, then you’d have hit the “unsubscribe” button a long time ago. More often than not, these “newsletters” amount to blatantly partisan campaign literature.

For example, the Feb. 11 edition was titled: “Democrats made promises, President Trump delivered.” Another recent edition addressed the Senate impeachment trial: “Today, House Democrats’ sham impeachment ended with the full vindication and exoneration of President Trump by the Senate.”

Why is this coming from the office of the president of the United States rather than from Donald J. Trump for President Inc.? Once elected, a president is supposed to govern and represent all citizens regardless of ideology. Still, it’s understandable that a president would be tempted to use the tools at his disposal for partisan purposes when the opposition tries to delegitimize him from the moment he’s elected.

In other countries, there are safeguards in place to prevent partisanship from bleeding all over elected officials’ mandates and hijacking governance. In Canada, for example, election cycles don’t effectively last four years, beginning the day the incumbent took office. By law, Canada’s federal election campaigns can only last a few dozen days — the longest in recent memory being 78 days in 2015. Outside of that well-defined period, there’s no campaigning allowed.

If you’re a member of a Canadian governing body, you aren’t allowed to use your office stationery or computers (funded by taxpayers) to send out hit pieces about the opposition. And if you’re the Canadian prime minister, you can’t use your Twitter account to emit an endless stream of hot takes about why opposition party members are losers. Instead, there’s a designated time when legislators can pose questions to members of Canada’s governing ministers. It’s called “Question Period,” and it occurs for 45 minutes each day that Canadian parliament is in session. (In the United Kingdom, each “Question Time” session lasts 60 minutes.)

During these sessions, federal officials can have it out with each other face to face, in real time, in front of the media, over any issue. They can scream and heckle all they want. They can even slander each other without any legal repercussions. It’s the political equivalent of a fight in a hockey game, after which everyone gets back to business.

Imagine if the U.S. president showed up on the floor of Congress every day for 45 minutes to participate in full-frontal political combat. Trump could go head to head with “Nervous Nancy” Pelosi and “Shifty” Adam Schiff, get it all out of his system and then get back to actual business.

Many American voters are unhappy with all the partisan squabbling. They want to know what elected officials are actually doing for the country. And that’s the problem in the U.S.: There isn’t a well-defined election cycle outside of which it’s forbidden to wage any kind of partisan campaign. That needs to change for the country’s sake.

Someone should propose legislation that would not only compel the president to face Congress each day in a structured setting, but also drastically limit election cycles and the ability to campaign outside of them. The overgrown children in Washington can’t seem to help themselves from doing otherwise.

With seemingly endless election cycles, there’s little incentive for elected officials to do anything besides score cheap points on each other. Everything becomes a partisan contest. The end result is paralyzing policy see-sawing. Republican Donald Trump undoes the policies of Democrat Barack Obama, who undoes the policies of Republican George W. Bush, and so on.

And elected officials are only part of the problem. There are also institutions that profit from fostering partisan division. Tax-exempt charities that support political candidates who back their agendas under the guise of issue-based advocacy need to lose their status and be outed for what they are: thinly disguised branches of a political party.

The Red Cross, for example, is a legitimate, issue-based charity. But there are “charities” in Washington with agendas that align with those of a political party. These charities provide funding, support and lobbying, effectively serving as an extension of the party. It’s not a free-speech issue, either. Advocate all you want. Just don’t expect taxpayers to subsidize it.

So, America, how about some new ground rules in the interest of promoting a more functional democracy?