Permanent Campaign Makes Compromise More Difficult

The Boston Globe‘s Rick Klein documents the collapse of the alliance between Teddy Kennedy and John McCain on the immigration issue. His article’s subtitle says it all: “Immigration bill on shelf amid campaign.”

Traditionally, only sugar sweet feel good legislation has gotten passed in the months leading up to an election, as both parties quite reasonable fear taking stances on controversial issues that will be used against them in November. We’re four months removed from the last election and twenty months away from the next one. Yet, the 2008 campaign is already well underway and the attendant fear of exercising leadership has come with it.

My libertarian-conservative philosophy makes me view this as a mixed bag. My preference for small government is advantaged somewhat, as legislation is almost always in the direction of more regulation and less freedom. At the same time, though, controlling our borders and making rules for citizenship is a legitimate role of the federal government. More generally, leaders ought to lead at least occasionally, taking strong, principled stances on the issues of the day and subjecting them to scrutiny.

There’s not much that can be done about any of this, to be sure. The permanent campaign has become a fact of life and I’m afraid it’s here to stay. Perhaps movement to a national primary in, say, April of the election year would remove the incentive to camp out in Iowa and New Hampshire two years in advance, but we’d likely just see earlier national television advertising and campaigning on the Internet.

Regardless, this strikes me as a bad thing.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    And an increasing amount of the campaigning and advertising will be beyond the direct control of the candidates themselves as was seen recently in the Clinton/1984 YouTube spot.

  2. I do think 2008 is going to be a bit of a perfect storm in campaign terms.

    The 2006 election flipped control on both houses to set up 2008 campaign.

    The senate is tightly balanced at 51-49. Hold the White House, pick up one seat and the republicans are back in the majority.

    The house has a relatively narrow margin and there will be a lot of freshmen representatives running in 2008.

    Unless something changes, 2008 will be the first election since 1968 where at least on of the parties won’t be represented by a currently sitting President or Vice-president. Likewise, it will be the first election since 1952 that won’t be seeing a a current or former President/Vice-president running, and then we had Eisenhower coming off his grand European tour. To get the last time you don’t have a current or former President/Vice-president running and no widely known/respected war hero running you have to go back to 1928. So campaign opportunities for both parties just don’t show up that often.

    I think blogs are also playing a part of the permanent campaign. There have always been people who are insiders in politics in permanent campaign mode. Likewise, there have been outsiders who follow politics continuously. But blogs are allowing that small minority to coalesce, hold discussions, critic, etc.

    Now does this mean we won’t see a permanent campaign mode for 2010 or 2012? I suspect that we will, but the particular circumstances of 2008 have upped the hype a bit.