By Jeff Greenfield
Did you know that Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in the Iowa caucuses, just 162 weeks or so away in 2016? That’s what POLITICO reported—“exclusively,” no less—60 hours or so after President Barack Obama was re-elected.
Did you know that Republicans are optimistic about re-taking the Senate in 2014, what with 20 Democratic seats in play compared with only 13 GOP seats? The Washington Post offered up a detailed look at the field in September, two months before the 2012 races had been decided.
Did you know that Republicans Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and John Thune might run for president next time, along with Democrats Andrew Cuomo, John Hickenlooper and Martin O’Malley?
Now I know what you’re thinking: Here comes another rant deploring these worthless exercises in political prognostication.
But friends, the truth is I have given up the ghost. The forces that propel the political community into premature evaluation—or is it electoral dysfunction—are simply too powerful to withstand. Would-be candidates have money to raise, consultants to hire. Those in the congressional minorities gaze wistfully at the perquisites of sub-committee chairmanships and dream of wielding a gavel and holding forth on Sunday talk shows.
As for the political press: nothing better encapsulates our sense of priorities than a single sentence spoken by one of the nation’s best-known journalists who had a front-row seat during Obama’s first term.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for three and a half years!” this correspondent exulted from Des Moines last January, on the morning of the Iowa caucuses.
(I am preserving anonymity because those sentiments could have been expressed by dozens of others.)
Taxes? Budgets? Two wars? Yeah, yeah, but this is Iowa, baby!
So, rather than emulating King Canute and beseeching the tide of campaign-centric obsession to recede, I offer instead a more modest proposal: Let’s make February 2013 National Governing Month.
For that one month, let’s have our elected officials agree not to appear at any political gathering; not to fund-raise; not to hold committee hearings whose chief purpose is to embarrass the other party. Let’s have the president agree to a similar set of restrictions.
Instead, for the entire twenty-eight days, let the folks we just elected to run the government . run the government.
Instead of running across the street from the Capitol to offices where it’s legal to make money-begging calls, members of the House and Senate would stay at the Capitol, possibly even trying to discover some common ground.
Instead of churning out press releases, Tweets, blogs, and talking points, the army of political operatives would find other work to do -- perhaps cleaning up public parks.
As for the press, the First Amendment does seem to preclude any official sanction for political gas-baggery. Still, it is at least possible to imagine that reporters might be shamed into temporary silence when a normally effusive political community collectively said, “Don’t you know this is National Governing Month? Call me March 1st.”
Okay, maybe that “shame the press” idea is overreaching.
But we are, I think, already getting a sense of what National Governing Month might offer us in the way of a more substantive, less overtly politicized political atmosphere.
When Congress and the White House built the political Doomsday Device known as “sequestration,” with its toxic brew of spending cuts and tax hikes, the assumption was that getting really close to the “fiscal cliff” would be unthinkable. With that cliff only weeks away, some serious analysis about the priorities of government and the nature of the tax burden has begun to dominate the conversation.
Now imagine making that kind of conversation a permanent part of the political calendar. Who knows? In those 28 days of National Governing Month, it might even occur to folks that dreaming about next election might not be the most productive use of time and energy.
Well, this is a fantasy.
By Jeff Greenfield