Here’s a simple proposal. I’m sure it’s too much to ask for, but I’m asking anyway. Let’s set aside a single month, say the month of April, following each federal election, and for that single month behave like the citizens and elected officials of a normal representative republic.
For this month, there will be no election campaigning. All the campaigns that were launched in December will be suspended for the entire month of April. They will not exist. Nobody will be a candidate for anything. Instead there will be a one-month break from elections to allow a brief period of plain old governance. Sure, elected officials will know that what happens in April will not stay in April. Everybody will remember it come May or the next year’s election, but there will be no campaign ads or emails or other electioneering activities, whether by candidates or outside groups, no planning, no funding, no nothing that involves the existence of campaigns. And there will be no use of public airwaves, by news or infotainment shows or anybody else to discuss campaigns or candidates. Elected officials will be discussed as elected officials. This would seem to favor incumbents over challengers, but those challengers will be back in the news soon enough. The liberal news shows will be giving three-quarters of their coverage to unelected but scary tea partiers before you can say “Jack Abramoff.” In the meantime, anyone wanting to talk about politics will have to talk about whether our actual elected officials are representing us or not.
An additional reason that they will have to do this, is that for this month political parties will cease to exist. No elected official will be referred to as a member of a party. Nor will any of them BE a member of a party. Parties will be gone for one month. Everyone, including party leaders, will remember who stepped out of line during this month. If voters mattered, we’d all be aware of voters’ capacity to remember what happened in April. In the absence of other reforms, it is of course party leaders and funders and corporate bosses and media pundits and the military insiders who matter, and they will all remember what is done in April. But no member of Congress or the President will do anything as a member of a party in April. Everyone will act as an individual.
This sounds like a pretense that would not seriously alter officials’ behavior. And perhaps it is. But the primary reason to imagine that it might not be is that ordinary people, too, would cease to be members of political parties for the month of April following an election. During April, people and organizations, unions and civic groups, would not ask themselves “What does the party I have sworn away my soul to want me to be saying/writing/chanting/and protesting about?” Instead, we would all ask ourselves “How does what I actually want compare to what the government is doing?” The relevant entities would be We the People and They the Government. If a President was attacking peace, prosperity, civil rights, the environment, the rule of law, and social justice at every turn, we would object exactly as if the future of life in this country and on this planet depended on it. We would allow elected officials’ actions to speak and pay no heed whatsoever to their words. If the president’s actions violated everything we held dear (this is just a theoretical example, of course) then we would eagerly and aggressively resist with nonviolence. We would put our bodies onto the wheels and gears of the machine until it could not function.
And that is when the blessing of a month blissfully free from the moronic screeching of brainless candidates and vacuous horserace reporting would begin to develop into something more. That is when the idea that there could be such a thing as a non-partisan, even anti-partisan, popular force pressuring our government as a government might overflow the boundary of the single month of normality. That is when May Day might live up to its history and become a day of declaring the continuation of certain mindsets and structures developed only in April.
This has of course only been a thought-experiment for the sake of fantastical diversion. I now return you to Sarah Palin’s athletic exploits, Mitt Romney’s bullshit, and Barack Obama’s vacation already in progress.