If you are in Congress, and the voters flatly reject you in November, you will still retain power for another 55 days. Even if Obama loses this year, he will still maintain power for an incredible 75 days after the electorate voted to remove him from power. These “lame duck” sessions or periods of time in office after an election result from the fact that elections happen so far before the Constitution allows newly elected officials to take office.
While absurdly long spacing between elections and inaugurations made sense back in 1820, when we had to wait weeks for news and people to travel by horse and ship, they are absurd historical remnants in the digital age. While obviously there should be special rules dealing with the rare close elections that result in recounts, the vast bulk of elections are called within 48 hours. There is no reason any politicians should be able to still wield power once it is clear the voter choose to remove them from power.
Most other democracies in the world understand this obvious logic and have adjusted to the reality produced by new technology. The period of time between their elections and when politicians take office is normally just a few days. The proper amount of time could be a week or two, but definitely not two months.
This weird “lame duck” problem wouldn’t be as big an issue if Congress and the President accepted that they lacked basic democratic legitimacy and simply didn’t take any real action unless it was a true emergency. Sadly that is not what is happening. Congress is already preparing to act on a huge range of important issues in the upcoming lame duck session. Huge decisions that could guide the next decade of government policy regarding the deficit, Medicare, taxes and defense spending could hinge on politicians that the electorate just voted to remove from decision making. This is frankly insane and violates the core principle of democracy.
To be sure, among the many problems facing the American government the anti-democratic lame duck session is obviously not the most important. But there should be almost no one opposed to fixing it. A country that doesn’t even try to fix its obvious and noncontroversial problems, because that would be too difficult or would mess with tradition, is a country on a dangerous trajectory.