If one were to look through the list of America’s past presidents, one would quickly conclude that many of the men who held our nation’s highest office would not have reached the Oval Office if they ran today. For example, James Madison’s soft voice and small stature would have branded him as too meek and complacent to serve, Andrew Jackson’s mistake of marrying a technically-still-married-woman would have been the subject of countless attack adds, Abraham Lincoln’s strange looks and history of deep depression would have deterred many voters, Theodore Roosevelt’s choice to leave his infant daughter behind while he wrangled the wild west would have been looked upon as unsound judgment, Warren Harding’s extramarital flings would have inevitably surfaced quickly in the primaries, Franklin Roosevelt’s fragile health would have caused his opponents to label him as unable to serve…and the list goes on and on.

So what changed?  In 1960, an event transpired which would ever change the way the American people chose their presidential candidates: the first televised debate. This debate, which showcased Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, is seen as the reason Mr. Kennedy was able to push past Mr. Nixon in the polls. Mr. Nixon’s refusal to wear makeup and his unfortunate tendency to sweat under the bright lights was, for many presidential scholars, one of the reasons he lost the 1960 election. Let it be duly noted: television can make or break a candidate.

In recent decades, voters have been looking for candidates who “look presidential,” who “really care about the voter,” and who have the most sophisticated flyers and mailers (and who have the most volunteers to distributed said flyers). Highly qualified candidates who struggle with “presidential appeal” are slowly pushed toward the bottom of the candidate pool. There’s a reason every president over the past 46 years has stood over 5’ 11” ½ (yes, the ½ is important). And the media, mainly televised media, has undeniably played an important role in this conundrum. The television gravitates toward candidates who are popular, have money, and look the part. Candidates who are eloquent get more air time, candidates who have the most money get the prime ad times, and the guys (or gals) who are highest in the polls get center stage on the debates.

But is this the way a country should be run? If you were to ask George Washington, he would reference the electoral college and wonder why popular elections are taking place in the first place. They imagined a convention where all candidates of any political viewpoint would gather and the electorate would decide then and there. Election of 1800 anybody? Unfortunately, our Founders’ ideal presidential election protocol has not been in affect for quite a while.

Ever since the Democratic party formally mobilized behind Andrew Jackson in 1828 and the Republican party convened for the first time in 1856, the electoral college has only been responsible for circling “blue” or “red.” Our two party system which dominates our electoral college has bled over into our primary process, preventing any candidate who does not align with either of these two parties from running. This inculcated system has only been disrupted twice in our history (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and Ross Perot in 1992 both received electoral votes), but never has a third party candidate reached the white house. For a country that was founded without any political parties by men who warned of the dangers of party faction, this is strange indeed.

This is exactly why this election is so intriguing. On the Republican side, the current top two contenders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, are both men who promise to challenge the status quo. Some would even argue that these two men are so radical they don’t even belong in their political party. These candidates are not only challenging Washington, they are challenging the media and the party system’s modus operandi. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders, the dark horse candidate who has pulled to the front, likewise promises to challenge the status quo and even America’s political and economic system itself.

But maybe this radical behavior is the reason these candidates are succeeding. Americans, especially my generation, are sick of politics as usual—not just in Congress, but in America as a whole. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 26% of American voters identify as Republicans, only 29% identify as Democrat, and a shocking 42% identify as Independent. Furthermore, according to a poll by Harvard’s Institute for Politics 41% of millennial Democrats support Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump leads the GOP field for millennial voters with 22% (the wide gap in the numbers is undoubtedly due to the number of candidates still in the GOP field). In the recent Iowa caucuses, according to CIRCLE, millennial voter turnout reached 11%—note the usual turnout rate in Iowa for millennial voters hovers around 4%.

My generation is tired of the set party rhetoric that permeates every area of society and we are ready for it to change. Amazingly, we, the children of social media and television, realize that the media often acts as king, appointing their chosen candidates to further their own political agenda and subtly force it upon the American people. We realize that this is not how a nation, a republic, should be run. We want our government to once again listen to us, the people, and not the ideas of political parties, mainstream media, and “government as usual.”

Originally published in The Washington Times Friday, February 12, 2016

Juliette Turner is the National Youth Director of Constituting America, and the author of three books: Our Constitution Rocks, Our Presidents Rock and the soon-to-be-released novel, based on life at her ranch with her mom, actress Janine Turner, That’s Not Hay In My Hair (all published by HarpersCollins/Zondervan).


5 replies
  1. Halley
    Halley says:

    It sure seems like political races can become a popularity contest, Juliette. That is not a good way to elect our leaders! Thanks for the great essay and for all your work on spreading the importance of KNOWING our Constitution.

  2. Seth Richardso
    Seth Richardso says:

    Juliette, I am heartened by your scholarship and concern for the principles upon which this great nation was founded. With the pernicious infiltration of our colleges and universities by Progressivism and even outright Marxism it is refreshing to see young people who understand that demagoguery and flash do not a leader make.

    I have followed your development as an effective speaker and writer since you and your mother started Constituting America, and I am honored by your dedication to America.

    While it is true that millennials are tired of the same old political shenanigans that both Republicans and Democrats engage in, it is just as true that old folks like me (I’m 62) have the same fears and concerns and are just as disgusted as you are. While our generation is waning, yours is in ascendance and the future of the Republic lies in your capable hands.

    My hope is that you, meaning your generation, will be able to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution so that your children and their children can remain free.

  3. Barb Zakszewski
    Barb Zakszewski says:

    Excellent, well-written reflection on the current mess of the political system. Our founders are rolling in their graves, they truly are. The campaigns, seem to bring out the worst in people, both citizens and the candidates themselves. I can see how young people are turned off by the process. My personal “litmus test” for a candidate is how they will govern according to the Constitution, and nothing else. It’s a pity how few candidates are talking about the Constitution or they plans to govern accordingly. My candidate, Scot Walker saw his candidacy, as well as Governor Rick Perry’ campaigns derailed by the cult of personality permeating our society. It’s all about sound bites and reality TV, not about substance anymore. I pray we finally can find our way back as a Nation; your essay Juliette, gives me hope that there is still a glimmer of hope for our Nation. Never give up the fight.. keep going. We need young people like to take up the fight. Thank you!

  4. Phillip DeVrou
    Phillip DeVrou says:

    Julliette, very well conceived and written. BTW, I am a late baby boomer and share the same sentiments that you do. I am frustrated and disgusted by the current status of American governance. Even though Republicans and Democrats say different things, in the end they tend to govern almost the same once elected. This I believe supports your point hat the current process generates cookie cutter candidates that look and sound the same. They are essentially the same or they cannot be elected. As you have noted, this has left room for Trump and Sanders, two very radical, and likely dangerous prospects, to gain attention whereas better, but less acceptable candidates like Carson, Fiorina were cast aside.

    People who listened, but did not see to the Nixon/Kennedy debate overwhelmingly thought Nixon won.

    Anyway, great essay. “Stay the course” – The Patriot.


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