IT USED TO BE said that Labor Day was when voters finally turned their focus to the presidential campaign.
That may have been true once upon a time, way back in the Mesozoic Era. But who hasn't had their fill of the 2016 race by now? If you've just returned from a long assignment to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, you may be tuning in for the first time to the race for the White House. The rest of us are desperately counting down the days until this endless campaign is over.
In a column last week, I suggested that, with sensible reforms, America's presidential campaigns could be shortened to something more human than the excruciating two-year marathon they've become. Here are three that might help:
1. Require the parties to pay for their own primaries. Taxpayers aren't forced to underwrite the balloting for inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the election of board members at Microsoft's annual shareholders meeting. They shouldn't have to subsidize the Republican and Democratic parties' primary elections, either.
Political parties are private organizations. And primary elections, their seemingly official "election day" trappings notwithstanding, are private functions. Parties are under no legal obligation to choose their nominees by means of primary voting — for most of US history, primaries didn't even exist. As recently as 1960, primaries were held in just 15 states. Letting party members vote directly for delegates to national conventions was meant to democratize the nominating process. Whether empowering rank-and-file voters at the expense of establishment insiders was a sound idea can be debated. But voters certainly like it. As primaries proliferated, campaigning for those primaries started earlier and earlier. But none of that alters the fact that primary "elections" are internal organizational events, not constitutional obligations. If the Democratic and Republican parties had to absorb the costs of their own balloting — just as the Rock and Roll museum and Microsoft do — they might find primaries less appealing. And if the emphasis on primaries shrank, the length of the primary season would too. . . .