A week from today it will all be over. After $5.8 billion and two years of campaigning, the 2012 elections will be done. (Unless the presidential candidates tie in the Electoral College, a possibility we’ll not think about this morning.) In battleground states like Nevada, viewers are being bombarded with 10,000 television ads a week; only one in 14 is positive. Are you tired of politics?
A technology company has created a way to replace all political posts on Facebook and Twitter with pictures of cats. One frustrated citizen has announced the “Sick and Tired Party.” Last July, 67 percent of Americans said they expected the remainder of the White House race to be “exhausting”—today we can add the remaining 33 percent to the total.
How do other countries do it? In Australia, 96 percent of citizens cast ballots (it doesn’t hurt that there’s a $20 penalty for those who don’t vote). Political campaigns typically last a month in the United Kingdom and two months in Australia. The longest election in Canada’s history was 74 days. The longest campaigns outside the United States are in Germany, where an unscheduled election can last for 114 days.
Why are our campaigns so long? One answer is historical, the result of constitutional guidelines created in the era before mass communication, when candidates needed months to meet the public and communicate their message.
Another is pragmatic: our president is Commander in Chief of the most powerful military in history. (While Congress has declared war only five times in our history, presidents have sent troops into battle numerous times.) He nominates justices for lifetime positions on the Supreme Court and makes more than 3,000 appointments for positions vital to the functions of the federal government. The president and vice-president are the only leaders elected by our entire country. Since no other single office is so important to the nation and world, its candidates deserve scrutiny.
If democracies get the leaders they deserve, maybe we get the campaigns we deserve as well. Negative rhetoric and attack ads reflect a culture that is divided and pessimistic—only 37 percent of likely voters say the country is headed in the right direction. Only 41 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the last election.
Do you remember an election as divisive as this one? What are your best and worst memories of past elections? I think the voter frustration of these days is an opening for the gospel, as believers remind our culture that our King can do what presidents cannot. Whatever happens next Tuesday, he will rule the universe next Wednesday. Despite the vagaries of our politics, God is still on his throne. Here’s the question: is he on yours?