If We Can’t Have Logic, Let’s At Least Have Fun

By May 1st, 2015

Blog No. 58

May 1, 2015

If We Can’t Have Logic, Let’s At Least Have Fun —

Presidential Elections as an Olympic Event

By Mack W. Borgen

Santa Barbara, California

University of California at Berkeley (Honors, Economics); Harvard Law School; Author, The Relevance of Reason – Business and Politics (Vol 1) and –Society and Culture (Vol 2)  – As Advertised in The New York Review of Books and Recipient of Four National Book Awards

This essay is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Mack W. Borgen.

Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Every decade or so I try again to suggest the means for true campaign and election reform. I just can’t help myself. The whole history of American reform – and especially campaign and election reform — has reflected the good and the bad, the ups and the down of our American political life.

 After the Civil War, blacks Americans were finally given the theoretical, if not the actual, right to vote. After the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920, women were finally given the right to vote. In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court in a nearly unanimous Reynolds v. Simms decision finally tendered its “one man, one vote” ruling. Just a year later and by an overwhelming vote of 328 to 74, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. But still, far too much seems the same: too much seems stuck and illogical. Over the next decades and tracking the rise of political cynicism, partisanship, and gridlock, some states adopted varying forms of “direct democracy.” Using referenda and initiatives, people started voting “directly” to adjust their taxes via Prop 13, to advance environmental movements, and to try to tackle a wide range of issues from immigration to same sex marriage.

But campaigns and elections – no matter what their form, subject or context — became matters of marketing. They devolved to more and more show and less and less substance. Many Americans believe that with the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Citizens United “one man, one vote” was replaced with “one dollar, one vote.” With the floodgates open and big money pouring in, elections are now bought and truth buried amidst the rest of the noise and clutter of modern American politics.

And thus it is in this context that I try again to suggest a path for real campaign and election reform.

The place to begin is to look at the calendar. It is now just about a year until the 2016 Rio Olympics – a mere 462 days to be exact.  Focusing upon America’s Presidential Election – the crown jewel political race in our society, it is not a mere coincidence that Presidential Election Reform is discussed every four years. It occurs with the same lock-step metronome of the Olympics.

The difference is that Presidential Election Reform is not debated with the thrill of victory or agony of defeat; with the excitement of athletic superstars and slow-motion replays. Instead, the election reforms are discussed in dry monotone. They remain the boring chatter of policy wonks and election nerds.

Every couple of years a few reform proposals are talked about with feigned passion, but inevitably a thickness sets in and takes over. Both good ideas and deep passion fade. The old standby doctrines like the “equal time” and “fairness” and “term limits” get tossed around, but truly new thoughts are treated like skunks at a picnic. For those reasons we’ve gone nowhere. Maybe with the money flood of Citizens’ United, we’ve even gone backwards.

Thus, the same remains the same. Our nation’s leaders are still selected amidst the barren winter cornfields of Iowa and in the school gyms of New Hampshire. Now I don’t want to take anything away from those town hall meetings. I don’t want candidates to have to give up those shucks-so-fun county fairs in Iowa. And I wouldn’t think of ruining the careers of Washington’s 13,768 talking heads. But enough is enough. It’s time that we take the bull(s***) by the horn. It’s time we brew our own solution. It’s time we think big., We need an entirely new way to select our President.

If we can’t have logic, let’s at least have fun.

How? Where to start? What to Do? I suggest settling our Presidential elections every four years at the Olympics.

Both the Olympics and the Presidential elections are held every 4 years. The infusion of a Presidential election into the Olympic schedule could be done. Easily. It admittedly would be a more American-based event when the Olympics are held in our own country like in 1984 (Los Angeles) or in 1996 (Atlanta), but in our age of worldwide instant coverage, it no longer is necessary. In the twitter, tweating, instagram world of our 21st Century, there really is no home field advantage any more.

Because the networks already pay billions for their coverage rights at the Olympics, they could absorb another Olympic event without the blink of a checkbook. I can almost see Sean Hannity and Chris Mathews exuberating all over themselves as the Presidential victor takes the gold; as the Presidential victor steps onto the winner’s platform; as the Stars and Stripes are lowered from the ceiling with the American anthem filling the arena.

The Presidential Election as an Olympic Event would also be exciting. It would garner wide audience participation and raise big money — all at the same time. And there wouldn’t be that big of a learning curve. Millions of Americans already know how to text in their vote for their American Idol. Hip-and-cool aside, text message voting is the only logical path forward. Besides, there are already more cell phones in America than there are registered voters. Press 1 for English; 2 for Spanish.

Once we get past the shock and awe of the concept, we’ll see that an Olympic event between the candidates is far better than the never-ending campaigns we have to endure now.

And it just gets better. Voters wouldn’t have to think so hard or listen so often. Voters wouldn’t have to hump their way through the snow to the voting booths in November. Instead, they could just sit back and let the candidates slug it out as an Olympic event — The Real American Way — Mano a Mano (or Mano a Mana as the case may be).

The pollster gurus could be replaced by the Nielsen ratings guys. Pre-game and pre-election shows could be rolled together. Heck, CNN could merge with ESPN and free up Channel 10.

Some may be concerned lest this type of event might hurt the Olympic image. But the Olympics will be fine. New events are added at every Olympics — and if they don’t work out, they’re dumped. Croquet made an appearance in 1900. Lacrosse was on and off for decades. Tug-of-war was literally an event in no less than six modern Olympics. Bowling surfaced as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics, and golf, sevens rugby (whatever that is) and even kite surfing are being added for the 2016 Rio Games. There is even a groundswell movement starting for the inclusion of my personal favorites – “Team Poker” and “Go Fish” – but that’s another story. The Olympics just won’t mind or even notice another “sport.” And at least for next year, if you don’t like the winner – just Blame It on Rio.

Arguably there could be confusion between “sports” and “news,” but I doubt it. First, the word “news” is a pretty relative word these days – ask Brian Williams. And Bob Costas can do every bit as well as any of the crew from CBS or ABC. While no one can replace the late Jim McKay’s “up close and personal” clips, such clips could continue. The mere association of our Presidential elections with the dignity and history of the Olympics may make us feel a little bit better about turning our money over to Clinton or Rubio or turning the nuclear codes over to Biden or Bush 3.

The exact nature of an Olympic Presidential Event will take some planning. But even the modest gray matter of Pelosi and Boehner can work out those details. Personally, I envision some kind of “Best 3-Out-of-5 American Gladiators” thing — a little mud-wrestling; an obstacle course; a chess match for the brainiacs, and maybe some boxing to test the contestant’s willingness to go below the belt.

Refereeing is a potential problem, but we could agree on someone – Ryan Seacrest or Jimmy Fallon come to mind, or maybe we go business with Maria Bartiromo or Jim Cramer. Better yet, we could class it up a bit with Alex Trebek’s “And who is …….?” If a candidate screws up during an event, the ref could deduct a few points, declare a foot fault, blurt out a reprimand, or even dock him 5 yards rather than 5 years. And it’ worth noting that all of those penalties are a whole lot cheaper than hiring those pricy special prosecutors.

And back to the best part — the money!! Ah, the money !! Cash flow would ooze out of an Olympic Presidential Event. Campaign contributors could keep their money. The Koch Brothers could take a rest. Fund-raisers would be replaced by Ticketmaster. By my rough projections the entire Defense Budget could be funded by T-shirt and pennant sales. With a little marketing, highlight films and TV residuals could wipe out the deficit faster than we can yell “The Fix Is In.” And in order to achieve a little rainy day reserve, the Olympic Presidential event – not unlike our current presidential election system really – could be a pay-for-view event.

With the Presidential Election reduced to a sporting event, we would no longer need all of those pricey Presidential Libraries sprinkled around the country. They could be replaced by a single Presidential Hall of Fame. If the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame is good enough for baseball, then a single Presidential Hall of Fame in say, Lost Corners, Arkansas should be good enough for us. And just to lighten things up, Chris Rock could present the long-overdue Elections Hall of Shame Awards right after the Oscars next year.

Campaign managers become “trainers.” Political consultants become “coaches.” All we voters need to do is to pick a team and be a fan. For the tabloid-inclined, Glenn Beck could scream from the sidelines, and Arianna could huff and puff whenever she feels so moved.

A Presidential Olympics Event would get every American involved from Maine to California and from beer to quiche. Just think how fun politics could be once again, and imagine the visual: Joe Biden in a low sumo position, dripping with democratic sweat and grunting against the younger Marco Rubio holding a 3-point stance with that cute republican perspiration. Highlights at 11:00.

Most importantly, the big winner might be our long lost friend: Honesty. In one fell swoop, the candidates can stop kissing babies in Kansas. They can stop eating rubber chicken in New Jersey. All they have to do is show up for a nice clean rumble-in-the-jungle down in Rio. Miss the election? No problem, just turn on Chris Berman on CNN/ESPN.

And when it’s over; when the stadium lights have dimmed; and when the last echoes of the crowd have bounced off the bleachers; we will go home again. One by one; citizen by citizen, to find our own lives and earn our own futures. Just as it should be.

So, you want true campaign reform? Make the Presidential election an Olympic event.

It might be too simple, but you can count me in.

 See you in Rio.



Author’s Note: Some of this essay was based upon an article written by this author a number of years ago.

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