By Eli Morton ’21 on behalf of Gettysburg College Democrats
The 2020 race has kicked off, which means that the most common questions I am asked as a politically-inclined Democrat seek to decipher who I am supporting. Will it be the progressive Elizabeth Warren? The man-of-the-people Sherrod Brown? Kamala, the compromise candidate? The voices increase in volume. Joe Biden? How come you don’t like Bernie? Beto? Gillibrand? Booker?! Klobuchar?!?!
The truth? I have tuned this conversation out, not only because the constant begging to know my preferences essentially equates to a car alarm going off at two in the morning, but also because, as a matter of lowercase-d democratic principles, lengthy presidential campaigns harm our institutions and cause politics to be likened to a horse race.
In no other industrialized democracy do campaigns for public office, particularly presidential campaigns, last as long as in the United States. This is partially due to federalism. On what planet (or in what nation) does it make sense that the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire sometimes have severalfold the say in a presidential primary than the voters here in Pennsylvania?
All of the factors that determine our system’s laborious pace aside, the length of a presidential campaign makes it incredibly expensive. To fund a winning campaign for two years takes inane amounts of money, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and to raise such a lavish sum, getting money from big donors is for all intents and purposes mandatory. These big donors, particularly following the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision in 2010, have corrupted our politics and determined what legislation is pursued and how it is written to a far greater degree than voters.
Additionally, the media coverage of the presidential “horse race” detracts from our ability to focus on the simple concept that politics affects the daily lives of people not only in this nation but also across the globe. It takes the focus away from the policy currently being pursued, away from other branches and levels of government whose debates are actively affecting our lives. It turns politics into a sport, a game that has few implications when one has left the field. It makes winning an election the end of the game rather than the beginning of a new game – the real game, the game that will have implications on the lives of people around the nation and outside of it.
I will not be choosing a candidate in the Democratic primary in 2019. The election is such a distance away that I believe it is ridiculous for me to get involved with a campaign that will be taking place in virtually four states, none of which are my home state. I will consider my options in 2020, when the stakes are higher, and turn my attention to the political issues facing Pennsylvania and the nation at this moment.