Conventions are over, stump speeches are (nearly) set, and the Labor Day weekend -- when people start paying attention, they tell us -- is behind us.
Without an October surprise, and assuming the economy sputters along, we can assume that the final tally will be based on the current information -- with some added punditry and a few coin tosses. Even the protests across the Muslim world and the secret fundraising video have limited ability to reveal much about either candidate that we didn't already know or suspect.
But is this really all we have to go on? A presidential candidate uses two main vehicles to make his or her argument -- release policy ideas, and comment on how the sitting president is doing. Of course, they can also talk about their personal life, religious routines, video game high scores, favorite color, iPod playlists and other bits for us to gobble. But let's play adults for a second.
A candidate makes one decision during the campaign that binds him after the election -- a decision so closely scrutinized, that it dominates the news cycle for days, brings Washington to a standstill, sacrifices countless tons of ink on the manner, style, and untold story of that decision. Automatic front page news. Fireworks. Hysteria.
And what is that decision? Selecting a running mate who, once elected, will have next-to-no constitutional authority or responsibility. The Vice President. The Statesman-in-Waiting who only gets specific jobs the president gives -- you know, if they want. Jobs we won't know about until after the election.
Not that the office of the VP is always the "most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived" as John Adams once said. (Though I would have loved to hear the subtle reminders he gave to Vice President Thomas Jefferson when in office). Our current vice president is viewed by his boss as a trusted behind-the-scenes counselor, especially on national security and navigating DC. Same for former VP Cheney. Over a dozen of them have graduated to presidentialdom. It's a good job, and people want it for a reason.
But it's not the only job the president selects. There's the nation's chief law enforcer, our top diplomat, the head of our vast military, and other members of the cabinet. Unlike Supreme Court justices -- specters of whom regularly make it into presidential stump speeches and debates -- these yet-unknowns rarely make an appearance into the thousands of hours of campaign speeches, written material, or off-the-record hints.
And maybe -- just maybe -- that should change.
Some of the more controversial government officials of the past few decades have been our Attorneys General -- from "Fast and Furious" Holder to "Cover Thy Ivory Bosom" Ashcroft. Every president since Nixon has appointed at least one National Security Advisor that still to this day commands respect on national security issues. And in a world where the U.S. Ambassador is known by name in the streets of countries throughout the world, their boss is even more recognizable as the face of American U.S. foreign policy.
Maybe we should know who these people are before we cast our ballot. At the least, maybe we should discuss whether this is information which would benefit voters in making their decision.
Some might say that this is not pragmatic. For instance, Hillary Clinton might not have been willing to tie herself to President Obama before the election. Maybe defense and national security types would not want to be seen as partisan. And of course, the token "member of the other party" cabinet secretary could become a thing of the past.
But these arguments don't hold weight against the matter at hand -- Americans are not making the most informed decision that they can -- because they don't know the totality of what they are voting for. When George Bush ran for president in 2000 and was asked in a South Carolina primary debate whether Colin Powell would serve in his cabinet, his opponent immediately affirmed that Powell would be asked. Bush? He said "I'm not telling" with a smile. He then argued that the campaign was not the time or place to discuss such things. I'm not so sure about that.
Sarah Palin became a pop-political phenomenon in our country. Why? Because she was asked to do a job that might one day lead her to another job that has power. But on the first day of every administration, there are several that have real power. I'd be curious as to who they would be.
We could start with baby steps. Give us the names of the Secretaries of State and Defense, as well the AG. We can wait until Christmas to learn the name of our new Secretary of Labor. If someone is unwilling to commit because of their career -- what does that say about the calculus inherent in our political system?
This would be a drastic change, and through discussion would we be able to decide whether it's for the better or not. But it's neither unreasonable nor taboo to consider. After all, we're the ones being asked to choose.