This past summer, the policy world slipped into a deep election-season hibernation. As the Trump and Clinton campaigns heated up, all eyes and attention were focused on the general election throw down between two of the most unpopular presidential nominees in history.
While Clinton and Sanders attempted unification in Philadelphia and Trump & Company took to the tropical waterfront destination of Cleveland, the D.C. think tanks and policy wonks slowly dipped into a deep-sleep issue-attention cycle hibernation.
When the campaigns heat up across the country, Washington, D.C. cools down.
When they rose from their slumber on November 9th, the questions began to flow;
“Where am I? What happened? Who’s our President?”
And boy oh boy, there were plenty of answers.
With President-elect Donald Trump heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress, the policy hibernation of 2016 quickly came to an end. Think tanks began turning their lights back on, analysts began crunching the numbers, and the policy community quickly started coming back online.
During the course of the election, policy issues were pushed by the wayside in favor of election coverage.
For example, there was limited discussion about reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. Not many chose to talk about the looming budget conundrum that the lame duck Congress will have to act on before leaving for the holiday recess. Health care, energy and transportation policy all took a backseat to the presidential campaign.
But why? Maybe because the media gets better ratings when they talk about Trump’s tweets or Hillary’s emails. Or maybe because campaign rhetoric fits into a 30-second sound bite better than a detailed policy position.
Maybe, just maybe, it is because we – the American voter – didn’t demand it. This year’s election felt more like a cage match than a presidential election. Many voters were turned off and tuned out the American political process.
In our constitutional democracy, tuning out is not an option.
As James Garfield so eloquently put it, “Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”
As the policy deep slumber comes to an end, let’s remember that we, the American people, must demand a campaign that doesn’t send the policy world into hibernation.