Why Do Campaigns Even Exist?

I think we can all agree that last week’s presidential debate was the debate from hell. There was screaming, petty insults, and general tomfoolery from both sides. For the majority of the evening, however, there was a bigger baby either prompting or doing most of the insanity. The debate not only brings up questions about itself as a viable format, but of the campaign trail as a whole. Why do we use such an arbitrary process to decide who is going to lead the nation? You can raise money, bully opponents, and gather big rallies. Who cares? The issue with the race for presidency is not the candidates (ok this time it kinda is), but it is the idea of campaigning as a whole.

Debates do one of two things: they either entrench supporters further onto their own side—which happens a lot—or they change people’s minds—which happens almost never. One thing a debate does not do is prove or disprove if a candidate will make a good president. When will the President ever have to speak in such a way on the public stage? A president has speeches that are pre-written, is surrounded by experts in every meeting, and almost never has to defend legislation on the fly. Why do we use a campaign as a mark of a good candidate when everything that goes into being a good campaigner is the opposite of what makes an effective president?

Donald trump at a rally Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr

Not only is the campaign ineffective, it is entirely too long and costly. Many elections across the world only last a few months. Countries have laws put into place so candidates cannot raise funds or declare candidacy until a particular window. Sure, news pundits may have less to cover for a few months, but goodness wouldn’t it be nice if campaigns actually took place within the election year. And then they were done. Americans are too focused on the fight, on the race and on a winner. Not the best winner; “your side’s” winner. Everyone is guilty of it on both sides of the aisle. The focus on the campaign is the reason why a candidate like Trump can win, have record disapproval ratings, and still put up a close fight in his reelection campaign. It’s why the Joe Bidens and Hillary Clintons will always struggle against him. Most importantly, it is why America is so divided. 

Part of the solution is to shorten the campaign trail, yet even then, we are left with good campaigners and bad presidents. In the latest season of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell looks into this issue. Gladwell highlights democracies by lot as an effective system for choosing a candidate to lead. A campaign is an arbitrary judge of what makes a good president, arguably as arbitrary as a random lottery would be. Gladwell found programs that have utilized the lottery system in schools with great success. If you are not convinced, I highly recommend checking it out (Season 5, The Powerball Revolution). Gladwell is far more articulate and thorough than I.

November is coming protest signs Photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels

Americans will most likely never go for the lottery system. Perhaps a new society will be able to utilize this form and spread it in the future. As for now, we are stuck listening to senile men scream at each other to win an office defined by its peacemaking promises. God bless America.