It’s official: Hillary Clinton is the first of any 2016 presidential candidate to buy TV time for campaign ads, which will start running in November in Iowa and New Hampshire. With this news, the nation offers a collective groan: Our campaign seasons seem to stretch longer and longer each cycle, and no one likes being bombarded by campaign commercials, door-knocking activists, or phone calls.
Here’s some advice for Americans who’ve grown weary of long and costly campaigns: Support limited government. When the federal government (worse yet, the executive branch of government) has the power to control nearly everything from health care to energy, from the financial sector to education, then of course there’s a lot at stake in each election. But if the President were less involved with those things, we’d be watching fewer campaign ads.
Hillary Clinton’s recent ad buy cost her team $7.7 million. But that’s pocket change compared to what all the 2016 campaigns will spend in the end.
In just the general election in 2012, the campaigns for President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney spent approximately $2.3 billion combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Both candidates promised to improve the economy, but imagine the good that could have been done if even some of this campaign cash were invested in private industry or used for private charity — anything other than annoying electioneering.
That said, it’s hard to blame the contributors: Super PACs, industry groups, and individual mega-donors are only responding to the incentives in front of them.
If you ran a green energy company and felt that the outcome of the election would affect your government-backed loan or subsidies for your products, wouldn’t you feel that influencing the election was part of your business strategy?
If you were in charge of a university system and felt that the election’s results could weigh heavily on funding for research programs or subsidies for student loans, wouldn’t you strongly consider making a hefty donation?
If you headed a health insurance company and considered all the subsidies, incentives, and regulations that support your business and require people to do business with you, wouldn’t that tempt you to take sides in an election?
In spite of all the handwringing about “getting money out of politics” there is actually a very clear strategy for accomplishing just that: a limited government agenda. Scale back government’s role in industries where it doesn’t belong and reduce the size and scope of government so it doesn’t control so much of the nation’s resources. Then, those industries would feel less pressure to exert control over the political process, and the power to change the status quo goes back into the peoples’ hands.
What does a limited-government agenda look like? There are clear government reforms that Congress could pursue, like term limits, balanced budget requirements, and sunset provisions on major regulatory actions and rules.
And there are more specific policy changes too: Walk back the federal government’s involvement in health care and education (those are issues where states should lead), end energy cronyism, and stop coddling big banks and crushing small ones through overregulation. If Uncle Sam followed these steps, he might better focus on serving us in areas where appropriate, like national security and monetary policy.
This agenda has become difficult to pursue in the modern political atmosphere. Here’s why: Big-government politicians of both parties have become adept at painting their activities as anything but cronyism: Concern for the environment or humanitarianism top the list of purported motives. Using this tactic, they prey on the hearts and minds of concerned, compassionate Americans who just want to make the world a better place.
The root of the problem is a disturbingly popular political philosophy that says there are no questions that government can’t answer and no problems that it can’t solve. It posits that those who don’t support national, government-centric solutions either don’t recognize that problems exist or simply don’t care. It rules out any notion of non-federal solutions that could be driven by state or local leaders, market forces, community involvement, or individual responsibilities and efforts.
But limiting government doesn’t mean blindness toward the very real problems facing our nation; it simply means that someone other than the President — perhaps state legislators, community leaders, and the people themselves — would have a say in how those problems are solved.
In other words, maybe campaign seasons wouldn’t be so long and painful, so big and costly, if there weren’t so much for sale in elections. While it’s tempting to blame the bidders (the donors and lobbyists who are looking for favors), the real culprit is the seller himself, Uncle Sam. Limit him, and elections will become more about public service and leadership, less about power and the fame and money that come with it.