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Monday, February 20, 2012

Sarkozy’s Electoral Campaign: Not for the U.S. Presidency

On February 15, 2012, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy formally announced his intent to file as a candidate for the office in what would be his second term. The announcement took place just over two months from the election (April22nd). If no candidate wins an absolute majority, the two top candidates would be on the ballot in a runoff held on May 6, 2012. The European sense of a decent length for a campaign “season” could be taken to heart by Americans.

For example, as Nicolas Sarkozy was undergoing two or three months of campaigning in France, Scott Walker had been campaigning for months already in Wisconsin, well in advance of a recall election that could still be six months away. I suspect that generally speaking, the campaigns in the U.S. states are much longer in duration than in the E.U. states. Perhaps Europeans are less tolerate of excess, or more willing to “just say no.”

Comparing a state-level campaign season with the election of an office at the empire-level (i.e., of a Union of such polities) is problematic. For one thing, at the E.U. and U.S. level, the states themselves would expect to have a say. Hence, primaries and caucuses to nominate a party candidate for the office of the President of the United States are by state. This involves several problems, such as what to do if a state voting later has a narrowed range of possible candidates from which to choose. Having every state nominate on the same date, with a run off a week or two latter, would be an improvement, but it would take away the distinctiveness of the states—something Europeans appreciate.

The American Electoral College, wherein electors vote for the President of the United States by state (literally in the capitols), is also not convertible into elections at the state level. It would make no sense to apply such a mechanism to a state itself (i.e., voting by state). My more general point is that it is hazardous to compare state and federal electoral politics and processes because the nature of a federal union does not apply to a particular state thereof. Yet this is typically ignored and I’m sure many people are trying to compare Sarkozy’s campaign with that of Obama.

This raises a much larger point: what to do with a societal category mistake that has become the legitimate default. The human proclivity of ignorance to presume that it cannot be wrong only complicates the matter of correction. Treating the U.S. as if it were a state in the E.U. with a large backyard conflates apples and oranges. Moreover, the error involves treating an empire as if it were on the kingdom level (i.e., a part of itself). It is like treating one person in his entirety as if he were equivalent to another person’s arm. The problems with such a comparison become clear once clothing is considered. What covers your arm is not going to cover my entire body, and going with it in January in Wisconsin or Wyoming would be dangerous. Similarly, it is dangerous to a polity to disregard what it is and treat it as if it were something else.

Therefore, although the U.S. Presidential campaign “season” (now two years!) is entirely too long and is in urgent need of reform, it would be a mistake to look at Sarkozy’s announcement, coming just two months before of his election, as a basis of comparison. Perhaps it is because empire-level federal unions of states have added elements (as well as scale) that complicate (and thus extend) the selection process of an empire-wide office such as the Presidency of the United States that the European Union has so far decided not to have an elected president. Given the nature of the level and scale of the E.U. and U.S., there is a lot to be said of the proposals in the U.S. Constitutional Convention wherein state legislatures or chief executives select the U.S. President. As it is, the U.S. House of Representatives, voting by state, elects that office where no candidate has an absolute majority of the electors in the Electoral College. Because the delegates in the convention thought it unlikely that any one person could be so well-known even in the empire of 13 republics, I suspect that they presumed that most presidents would be elected by the democratically-elected federal representatives, voting by state as the U.S. is a union of states (i.e., the states being members too).

No one would be happier than me were the American presidential election reformed to have a two or three month campaign season, but given the fundamental difference between the U.S. and E.U. on the one hand and their respective states on the other, we could expect problems because a category mistake would be involved. For instance, two months given the empire scale would mean that grass-roots campaigning would be virtually impossible; the television media would be the conduit, and perhaps with undue manipulation from the funded-pundits and media “personalities.” There is a reason why in traditional federal theory, officials of the states select the empire-wide office holders. The state officials themselves having been elected (after a two month campaign!), their involvement would not be at the expense of democracy. In fact, it would heighten public attention on the state-level elections, as is the case in the E.U. Put another way, were the E.U. to have an overall president (rather than one of a given institution, such as the European Council), I doubt it would be a simple election decided only by the E.U. citizens as a whole. That would be to conflate the E.U. with one of its states. See what I mean? If so, you will see the mistake being made over and over again as a matter of course, as a generally accepted default rather than a gross error. Welcome to my world.

Gabriele Parussini and David Gauthier-Villars, “Sarkozy Launches His Bid for New Term,” The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204880404577224793514483690.html