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How to stop election year insanity

By Lewis Beale, Special to CNN
updated 8:08 AM EDT, Wed May 30, 2012
Supporters of Republican presidential hopefuls and President Barack Obama hold placards outside a polling station in New Hampshire--11 months before the election.
Supporters of Republican presidential hopefuls and President Barack Obama hold placards outside a polling station in New Hampshire--11 months before the election.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lewis Beale says he's sick of unending political ads, and we have five months to go
  • He says the election system is dysfunctional, but it could be helped
  • He says make presidency a single six-year term so that something gets done
  • Beale: Ban negative ads, limit polling, spending; at least it's a start

Editor's note: Lewis Beale writes about film for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the New York Daily News and other publications.

(CNN) -- I was watching yet another annoying political ad produced by some super PAC of which I've never heard, and all I could think was: "Sheesh, it's not even June, and I'm already sick of this stuff. With five months to go until the election, I think a steady diet of this junk will drive me into a mental institution."

Me and about 200 million other Americans.

Let's face it -- the way we elect our presidents is seriously dysfunctional. The seemingly endless campaign season. The hectoring TV ads, the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the system, the endless polling and pontificating. Contemplating this, all I can do is repeat the immortal words of Charlton Heston in "Planet of the Apes": "God damn you all to hell!"

Lewis Beale
Lewis Beale

But there are ways to make the system better. If, that is, we have the will (and this is highly questionable). I'm no pundit; heck, I'm not even Joe the Plumber (think of me as Lew the Disgusted), but I'd like to offer a few suggestions on how to restore sanity to the process.

1. Make the presidency a six-year, one-term-only gig. That gives anyone elected to the job plenty of time to actually accomplish something, while also guaranteeing that the second half of his or her term won't be spent running for re-election. What a concept.

2. Start the campaign season after Labor Day. Most industrialized countries run political campaigns that are three months in length or less. Do they know something we don't? Or should I say, have you ever heard the term "voter exhaustion?"

3. Publicly finance the election. Citizens United, up there with Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) as one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history, only made a bad system even worse, allowing more millions to pour into an already corrupt process. So give each contender a fixed amount of money, and tell them they can spent it any way they want, but that's all they'll have -- no private, corporate or PAC contributions at all. Let 'em whine. Who cares?

4. Ban negative ads. Believe it or not, Mexico does this. They have an independent commission deciding when a political ad goes over the line into negativity and falsehood. If they can do it South of the Border, why can't we?

5. Limit polling. It seems there's a new poll every microsecond. What do they really tell us? That people's minds keep changing? Stop the presses on that one! Pass a law saying every news organization and polling organization can only do their thing, say, once a month. Eliminate the clutter.

That'll do for a start.

But I can hear some of you saying "this is a free country, yadda yadda, people can spend their money any way they want, yaddayadda, there's such a thing as free speech in a democracy, yadda yadda yadda." And besides, it's all settled law, you say; the court has ruled on Citizens United. Well, yes I know this. Things don't change overnight.

But here's what else I know: Sometimes liberty becomes license. And that's what's happening in America today.

Money has completely corrupted the system and helped create a situation where the U.S., the most powerful country on Earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts (lower than any country in Western Europe or Latin America, lower than most countries in North America). You think disgust with the process has anything to do with this?

Think about that the next time the Rich Folks For Super PACs super PAC puts another misleading, demeaning and infuriating political ad on the tube.

How about you? What do you think we can do to improve the election process?

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lewis Beale.

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