So much for 2012, bring on 2016…
I don't know about you, but I'm already looking forward to the US Presidential election in 2016. And that's exactly the problem in America's campaign-focused political system
Not for the first time, former President Bill Clinton has, in his own unique manner, revealed a singular truth about American politics. Either deliberately or otherwise, depending upon your assessment of the man, Clinton has in a stroke raised the spectre of a Hillary Clinton presidency and revealed an intrinsic flaw in the American electoral psyche.
By admitting that he had no idea whether his wife would seek the presidency in four years, Bill Clinton effective fired the starting pistol for the Democratic primary season of 2016, two months before the result of the 2012 election has even been announced.
It has long been the case that a second term American president becomes a lame duck in some respects, almost as soon as he has been returned to office. It is in the nature of politics that power abhors a vacuum, and as soon as one election is over, eyes turn to the next.
The knowledge that a second term president is constitutionally prohibited from seeking another term inevitably leads to questions being asked in regard to his successor, and accordingly, a diminution of his stature as advisers begin to think of their own futures and initiate a process of seeking to ally themselves with the next potential president.
This could be seen as being the $2 billion problem at the heart of American politics. It is too focused on campaigning and not on governing. Vast sums are being spent to sway a tiny number of undecided, Independent voters to vote on, or before, November 6th.
Despite the sums involved, turnout is unlikely to exceed 55 percent. As politics becomes more and more about gaining power and less and less about holding and using power, the electorate are becoming less and less interested.
This endless process ensures that rather than thinking about what is best for the nation or its citizens, politicians constantly have to focus upon their bid for re-election. This is bad enough in the presidency, but it is endemic within the House of Representatives, with its two-year term in office, which ensures that candidates have to fundraise for re-election from their first hours in post. This is simply no way to run a 21st century superpower.
All too often in recent years, the flaws in the 17th century basis of American democracy have been exposed, be it in electoral processes, voting regulations or terms in office. The American Constitution was designed to frustrate, and in this, it is certainly succeeding, but not necessarily in the ways intended.
These inherent problems are compounded by the lack of an obvious incumbent for the Democrats in 2016 (assuming an Obama victory in November). By retaining the services of Vice President Joe Biden, Barack Obama has effectively made him the presumptive candidate in 2016.
Is that really what the Democratic Party wants? By Election Day 2016, Biden will be 73 and no more ready to be president than he was in 2008. One of the great successes of this Administration to date has been securing Obama's safety and thereby keeping Biden from the Oval Office.
Retaining Biden may have been viewed as an act of political loyalty by Obama, but it lacked any strategic vision. An opportunity existed to bring on board a strong and credible candidate for the presidency in 2016 and give them the all-important incumbency and presumptive nomination status that would go with the position.
Instead, Obama has saddled himself and his party with a Vice President who brings nothing positive to the ticket and actually hurts the party in the lead up to the next election. Rather than being able to coalesce around an incumbent and obvious front runner, the party machine will need to endure another anxious primary season and endless speculation over the potential nominee, a process that Bill Clinton kick started this week.
If the Democrats prevail on November 6th, then the Republican posturing will also begin in earnest, with serious questions to be asked as to how they managed to blow an election that was there for the taking.
Issues of personality and policy need to be addressed head-on if the party is to return to the White House in 2016. Its best bet for doing so, it would appear, is via Senator Marco Rubio, a young talent who appears to epitomise much of what the American Dream has come to mean in the 21st Century.
Oh, and did I mention he was from Florida? One need not still have nightmares about Election 2000 to be aware of this significance. And did I mention he was from Cuba? With America’s rapidly changing demographic the importance of this should not be underestimated.
After the fireworks of 2008, 2012 has proven to be a rather uneventful election (so far). With the personalities and politics that will doubtless dominate the next four years, it appears likely that 2016 will prove to be far more interesting and dynamic.
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to it already, which is, of course, exactly the problem in America’s campaign-focused political system.
Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys
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