After 20 months of negative ads, robocalls, and shouting heads, most Americans are approaching today's vote with a mixture of hope and relief – relief that we can go back to the normalcy of when the non-stop ads talked about erectile dysfunction rather than socialism. But before we celebrate the end of this seemingly endless campaign, we should reconsider the many benefits it has provided, benefits we will sorely miss come November 5th:
Stimulating the economy
The presidential race has been estimated to have cost upwards of $2 billion, and the combined election costs including all House/Senate/states races are pegged at a total of $5.4 billion. This infusion of cash has helped prop up a sagging economy, employing a vast array of campaign managers, media consultants, precinct captains, advertising firms, and Web designers, not to mention pizza delivery men, sound techs, bus drivers, sign-printers, plumbers-turned pundits and sales-staff at Neiman Marcus. At a time when bastions of white collar employment like banks and insurance companies are imploding, the campaigns provided the one area of steady growth. This is leaving aside the vast secondary economy that depends largely or entirely on the election: cable news channels, political commentators, bloggers, and late-night-television comedians. Barring a recount, don’t be surprised to see CNN, MSNBC and Comedy Central following GM’s example in announcing major lay-offs come mid-November.
Elevating public discourse
Sure, there has been a lot of gnashing of teeth about the “politics of fear” raised by silly accusations about “palling around with terrorists”. But have we forgotten what we were arguing about before the election – whether Brittany Spears should be committed and whether Scott Peterson killed Lacey? Do we really want to go back to non-stop coverage of the latest co-ed disappearance? When was the last time before 2007 that there was a serious discussion about race, about double standards facing successful, high achieving women, or the merits of the progressive income tax?
Bolstering unemployment figures
The number of people employed by the campaigns goes well beyond those who have some slice of the $5.4 billion spent on ads and campaign infrastructure. For every dollar spent by the campaigns, there are untold dollars of “in-kind” work provided by an army of volunteers. For thousands of recent college grads, the promise of a free couch to sleep on and unlimited pizza (not to mention “campaign sex”) was enough to convince them to devote their last 18 months to working to realize the promise of “Change” (the Kind We Can Believe In or The Kind We Need, depending on your political bent). They were spared having to slink home to live with their parents in a declining economy, plus they didn’t showing up in unemployment statistics. Are we really ready to watch unemployment climb to 9% as they re-enter the labor market just as Starbucks is cutting jobs?
Distracting us from our problems
Face it, just like Seabiscuit during the Depression , the excitement of this election was a welcome distraction from our real problems. Without fivethirtyeight.com to check into every few hours, we might be tempted to check on the status of our retirement fund (depressing) or the war in Afghanistan (scary). It gave us a constant supply of things to talk about with friends or family or to tease our neighbors about (“Hey Bob – how’d you like your gal’s interview with Katie last night?”). With so many more states in play this year, it is as if half the country had a team in the pennant race (think wild card on steroids). Most important, we have largely forgotten that we still have a President in the White House who only a one in four of us supported, and which over half of the country actively loathed.
Paying attention to the whole country
Say what you will about Sarah Palin’s attempts to divide the country into “real America” vs. “fake America”, other than during election season, you would be hard pressed to find ANY attention being paid to small towns in Western Pennsylvania or to farm communities in the prairie states – unless you count the occasional Hallmark classic, the “Deerhunter” (now 30 years old) or Paris Hilton’s old reality show). Is it so bad to remind the two coasts that there are lots of places where people still make a living growing our food? And that Anchorage is not the capital of Alaska? How many people even knew where the 2d congressional district of Nebraska actually is, let alone that there are enough Democrats in Omaha that it might throw a single electoral vote to Obama?
To prevent the sever shock that a sudden loss of all these tangible and intangible benefits would provide, I offer:
A modest proposal
1. Suspend the vote count. Decided voters can vote as planned on November 4th but their votes will be sequestered with the rest of the "early voters”.
2. The remaining 5% of undecided voters (and anyone not able to vote because of long lines/electoral purges/challenges, etc.) will postpone voting until January 9th in return for releasing their identities to the public. McCain and Obama will continue to campaign until then, including holding some town hall meetings made up exclusively of the remaining undecided voters. Candidate ads could be narrowcast at individual voters – “Obama – wrong on taxes. Bad for Bob Smeldenburg. Wrong for America.” Think of it as a combination of “Swing Vote” and Obama’s 30 minute infomercial.
3. Cable news, pundits, campaign workers will analyze daily tracking polls of the ups and downs of these individual undecided voters. Candidates could set up shop in nearby foreclosed houses so they could provide personal outreach to such voters, holding daily coffee klatches about their healthcare proposals and trade policy. (Sort of comes full circle back to the retail politics of the New Hampshire primaries.
4. On January 9th, ten days prior to inauguration, those voters would drive to the polls (the cable channels could track them in helicopters real time like OJ) and cast their ballots. The small number of votes could be tallied quickly and the winner would be announced in prime time EST that evening from the Kodak Center in LA. No more waiting up until midnight on the East coast for the results from Oregon; nor more heading to the polls in California and hearing the election that had already been decided. Both Obama and McCain would have to attend to accept the result, forcing them to maintain a stoically upbeat demeanor when the camera bore in on them as their opponent was announced the winner. The winner would bound up to accept the award to the sounds of Stevie Wonder or Hank Williams Jr., while pretending not to have prepared an acceptance speech in advance. Thirty-five minutes into their thank yous, the band will strike up the campaign theme song and pretty models will escort them offstage.
5. Everyone will disband to post-election parties sponsored by FoxNews, DailyKos, MSNBC and the Club for Growth. David Plouffe will get drunk and fall into a pool to be rescued by Steve Schmidt (or vice versa). Entertainment Tonight will dissect the different dresses worn by Hillary, Sarah, Cindy and Michele. And Michael Moore will punch Bill O’Reilly in the nose, making him cry.