Long campaign comes to an end

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By Rick Howell

Deadlines for columns being what they are, it wasn’t possible to comment this week on the results of the presidential election. The verdict wasn’t known before your favorite liberal needed to submit his, uhee.“latest screed.”

I’ll be glad to weigh in on that next week. I hope, though, that however things came out, we can learn some lessons from this incredibly long marathon that we call a presidential election.

First, it’s too long. Way too long. No doubt even now, somewhere in Massachusetts, Republican Mitt Romney is already planning his next presidential campaign. Record amounts of money were surely spent, especially since Barack Obama was the object of the hopes of many millions of Americans willing to put their money in the same place as their hearts.

John McCain accepted public financing and was brutally outspent as a result of it. What we need, instead of the weak public financing law we have, is to adopt something more comprehensive along the lines of the British system. Federal campaigns should be entirely publicly financed, with strict limits on the length of campaigns, the money that can be spent, and especially on the advertising. Until we do that, campaigns will get longer and longer (if that’s possibleee.).

Secondly, even in an era where we have more information available than ever, through the Internet, satellite and cable television, newspapers and magazines, many people stubbornly refuse to inform themselves about the facts.

For example, anyone inclined to accept the ridiculous notion that Barack Obama was, or ever had been, a Muslim, only had to do a tiny bit of research to find out the falsehood of that assertion. Yet, instead of doing that, too many people were willing to listen to Ann Coulter or whoever started the Muslim thing. There were probably many thousands who clung to their ignorance and went to the polls this week determined to “vote against that Muslim.” Ignorance may be bliss for the holder of it, but it’s not good for the republic.

Third, there was way too much talk of religion in this campaign. Neither candidate should have felt the need to submit himself to the so-called “Saddleback forum” at the Rev. Rick Warren’s mega-church. Even the so-called liberal media went along with all this hand-wringing over “the candidates’ faith,” etc., etc. The Constitution forbids a "religious test" for public office, and candidates should not have to spew forth their emotions about their "beliefs" in order to win votes.

We’ve got to accept the fact that when we vote for president we’re choosing the chief executive officer of the secular government our founders established. We’re not picking a national spiritual leader, or the head of any of our numerous Christian denominations.

We got saddled with the failures of George W. Bush in the first place because too many people said - as they told pollsters and media in 2000 and 2004 - “I’m voting for Bush because he’s a Christian.” But religiosity didn’t seem to help Bush much, did it? He still became one of the worst presidents we’ve ever had. I don’t blame God; I blame Bush and his supporters.

Those who really want to conduct a religious crusade - to “save souls,” as it were - need to keep that work in the churches where it belongs. Politics is about who will represent us in our civilian, secular government, and the policies they propose. The two impulses should always be separate. It’s what’s best for the churches and it’s what’s best for government.

Finally, at long last, Campaign 2008 is over. Now the troubles are only beginning for the next president.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com