February 2nd marks the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. And, on that day in the little town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Phil the groundhog will emerge from his burrow to determine whether Winter will continue for six more weeks or an early Spring will commence. Not merely in Punxsutawney, but also in other locales in the United States, Canada, and Australia will this ritual play out.
During my lifetime, there have been many Groundhog Days, more than I care to admit. And, during that span, not one time in my recollection has Phil been unable to see his shadow (the condition necessary for the prognostication of an early Spring). During that period, there have surely been many cloudy February 2nd’s. In fact, on one particular Groundhog Day, the fog that morning was so thick that one could barely see his own outstretched arm, let alone see a shadow. Yet, it was reported that Phil saw his shadow and Winter would continue for another six weeks. From the foregoing, I can come to but one conclusion, and that is that groundhogs or their handlers are notorious liars.
At this time, in the United States, we find ourselves at another midway point. We are midway through what has, in recent election cycles, become a two-year quest to win the Presidency of the United States. During this period, Presidential aspirants burrow out from wherever they have been hibernating, test the political climate, and make a decision as to whether or not to seek the Presidential nomination of their political party. Unlike Punxsutawney Phil, their ultimate decisions are not predictable. Like Phil, however, there is a good deal of prevarication in their messages.
In recent Presidential election cycles, success has followed a relatively simple formula. First, cultivate a base of support. Second, utilize that base to generate hundreds of millions of dollars or more of funding, thereby demonstrating to members of your party that you have the resources to be a winner. Third, moderate your positions to broaden your appeal without alienating your base. Elegantly simple, yet surprisingly difficult to execute, the formula has been critical to success in both securing party nominations and winning the ultimate prize, the Presidency.
The problem with the formula and the entire electoral process is that, in order to be elected, candidates must lie to the voters. Euphemisms aside, assuming that a candidate defines himself accurately to his base, his redefinition for mass appeal must then be a fabrication. In concrete, yet simple terms, Democrats begin by appealing to a predominantly liberal party base and Republicans to a conservative base to secure the Presidential nomination of their respective parties. To win the election, however, the successful candidate must hold his base while gaining the preponderance of the vote of the more moderate majority of voters in the populace at large.
In practice, this means changing positions, renouncing or explaining away previous positions, or making promises that contradict stated positions or established values. Yet, one must assume that once elected, that individual will govern from his core principals. What then is the general electorate to make of the reversals and promises made to win election to the highest office in the land? In my opinion, they represent distortions of true positions at best and outright lies at worst.
And, the problem seems to be worsening over time. As candidates “keep their eyes on the prize” in an increasingly lengthy nomination and election process, they seemingly will do or say anything in order to win. Our Founding Fathers, I believe, would not approve.
The purpose of national elections, in my estimation, is to allow competing ideas and philosophies to be soberly debated with the electorate being the final arbiter of the direction in which our country is guided. As candidates misrepresent or obfuscate their true positions, voters are denied the ability to make an informed decision and effectively disenfranchised. Given those circumstances, one might just as well vote for Punxsutawney Phil.