When the calendar of American elections was established, it probably made sense to pick a president in November. It no longer does.
In a rural society, the rationale was that the early November date came after the harvests had been gathered and before the snows and chills of winter made travel difficult. Harvest dates and weather patterns have not changed, but unforeseen factors have made this an inopportune season for politics.
America has too many other things on its mind in October to pay attention to the rambling remarks of the presidential candidates. To be specific, it has four too many things on its mind: baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
The Founding Fathers did not know that this would be World Series time, or the seventh week of the National Football League schedule, or the time when everyone's favorite high school and college football teams would be getting into serious games with conference rivals. Still less did they foresee that the builders of all the great indoor arenas would schedule three nights of hockey and basketball a week -- and even some Sunday basketball-hockey double-headers -- in order to recoup their investments.
But we who are the beneficiaries of all this progress understand that it does not come without a price. Presidential politics is one sport that has been crowded off the fall calendar.
It is my suspicion -- and I leave it to any graduate student seeking a dissertation topic to provide the appropriate statistics -- that the decline in voting turnout in the last 20 years is inversely proportional to the increase in gate receipts for the four fall sports. For every campaign button that is not worn, an extra pennant is being waved. The cheers echo just as loud as they ever did -- but they go to men in pads and jerseys, not in three-piece suits. America is not turned off by politics; it is just exhausted by the four-sport orgy.
At the risk of infringing on Common Cause's and the League of Women Voters' franchise for reform, it is my simple duty to report that I have figured out a solution to this problem, of which many of you were probably blissfully unaware.
Let us do nothing to disturb anything as fundamental to the Constitution as the dates of the baseball playoffs or the Michigan-Michigan State game. Let us, instead, move the election.
An improved primary election calendar would begin in New Hampshire, not during the snows of February but four months earlier -- in October, just late enough in the month to come after the last game of the Series. That would allow the large fields of candidates and the even larger press corps to enjoy the autumn foliage at its height, and help fill the motels in the slow weeks before the skiing begins. There would be no harm in the fact that most of America paid no attention to the campaigning in New Hampshire because of the Series. Quite the contrary, it would help keep that primary in perspective.
The remainder of the early-round primaries would fit comfortably into the schedule before Thanksgiving. The Tuesday night network election specials would not interfere with Monday night football or the weekend games.
The surviving candidates could count on a real break in the schedule between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. They could restock their campaign treasuries, rewrite their basic speeches and improve their images with fresh Christmas ties.
When the campaigning resumed in January, the action would shift to the Sun Belt states and would climax in sunny California in early February.
The political conventions would then fall logically in March and April, when baseball is just beginning and the hockey and basketball playoffs are still in their preliminary rounds. The NBA and NHL could crown their champions while the moninees organized their campaigns.
The running of the Kentucky Derby would be the signal for the start of the general election, which would go on through June -- providing an ample supply of commencement speeches by the vice presidential candidates. Election Day, appropriately, would fall on the Tuesday following the Independence Day holiday weekend.
With the patriotic fervor of the holiday helping swell the turnout of voters, Americans could discharge their duty as citizens and then turn with a clear conscience to picnics, summer vacations -- and the baseball season. The new president would be inaugurated on the day after Labor Day, which is psychologically, the start of the new work year for all the rest us.
Diligent political reporters could figure they were safe for at least another month, when the first candidate for the subsequent presidential election would make his first trip to New Hampshire -- just to enjoy the foilage, of course.