Many people who know I have spent 62 years in and around politics think I know everything about this arcane, wonderful business. They also expect me to be knowledgeable, even wise, on all matters political, which I am not. The compilation that follows of some of those questions I'm asked and answers I've given will be all the proof needed of that.
Q: Why can’t we have shorter election periods like, say, the British do?
A: The main reason is that the British elections are called not scheduled. It’s hard to figure out how to enter a game when you don’t know when it starts. The other reason is that too many candidates have enough money to spend recklessly and wastefully, so why not start boring us to death early?
Q: Why can’t we have part-time legislatures?
A: Conceding that the world is a lot more complicated than it was when part-time legislators were up to the job of coping with it, the real reason is that the full-timers who occupy most of the legislative seats in Madison and all of the them in Washington would have to vote to go part-time.
Q: Why is so much money spent on campaigns?
A: There are two main reasons. The first is that candidates are convinced that electoral success and money raising success are joined at the hip. Since hardly anybody tries to win on less money or, better yet, by running against money (Have you heard “Let The People Decide” lately?) that option isn’t tested. The other reason is that more and more people with more and more money have learned that money buys power, and that is what more and more people with money want to buy.
Q: Why don’t we have spending limits on campaigns?
A: This, too, has multiple answers. The first is that a lot of the money being spent on campaigns today is not being spent by the candidates. It is being spent tangentially on ideas the candidates like or dislike and the spending is regarded by the U.S. Supreme Court as “issue” or “idea” promotion. The other reason is that the Supreme Court has said that the only candidate whose spending can be made subject to limits is the candidate who has taken public money instead of or in addition to private donations. Candidates who say they hate the dialing for dollars they must do to raise that private money hate, or fear, the stigma of “welfare for politicians” that their opponents will use against them if they take public money. This is what they say. What they don’t say is that public money to be legal would have to go to all candidates not just incumbents. “Why should I vote for a law which gives money to someone who wants to run against me?” one candid incumbent asked.
Q: Why are so many campaign messages personal attacks on opponents?
A: Because candidates believe what the professionals who now orchestrate most campaigns tell them: that they work. If everybody uses them and nobody runs a positive campaign about ideas and problem solving instead of about personal shortcomings of the players, this ad hominem campaign strategy is uncontested.
The question that is rarely asked and that we desperately need answers for is, What can we do about the things we can do something about to make government a place that works again?
Office: Common Cause Wisconsin