Please Make It Stop
Copyright © by Len Holman, 3/5/12
After what seems like 700 so-called debates, endless spinning, changing, and lying about everyone’s positions on everything, breathless commentary by putative journalists, rehashing of a mountain of statistics displayed on those keen graphic boards all the news shows have, and interviews with candidates who never answer the questions asked, but rather give mini-campaign speeches, we’re not even close to the end of it all. And why not? Because it’s the “democratic process,” the “American way” and that’s the way we like it—except a lot of us don’t. It would be both refreshing and informative if we changed our system to make our choices easier and more meaningful.
Imagine that advertising took this approach and on your 42-inch screen some spokesperson for Burger King spoke into the camera, saying “Our double-meat burger is very good. It has four bacon slices and lettuce, tomato, and a sauce that is a little spicy, with a sesame seed bun. We believe if you try it, you’ll really like it.” No dancing bears or music; no fancy names like “Bacon Extravaganza” (which tells you nothing about the burger except is has some bacon) or exploding anything. Just the plain facts. If you hate spicy sauce or sesame buns, or are allergic to bacon, then you know, without spending any more time or any money, that you won’t be buying that burger. Imagine the same for car ads: “This car is small, seats no more than four people comfortably, has GPS, Bluetooth, radio, a heater that works moderately well, CD player, and an IPod dock. It is fuel efficient—about 30 MPG, but if you’re trying to merge onto a Los Angeles freeway, you’d better leave yourself a lot of room to get into the traffic or you’ll be run over. It’s a decent-looking car, with fake-wood trim. Its biggest selling point is that it’s cheap and the warranty is pretty good.” Ok, now you have a much better idea of what you’d be getting—if you went to look.
Notice that the ads I’ve described will only take a few seconds. The campaigns for President in this country last four years, with the last year an eternity of over-the-top advertising, self-aggrandizing, distortion of accomplishments—both for the one advertising and his or her opponent, and a constant drumbeat of dire warnings about the “crossroads” America faces, the impending doom the country faces if candidate X isn’t elected, and the crumbling of American Exceptionalism. TV time is so expensive, Super PACs are hard-put to keep up the flow of checks, and the candidates are hard-put to say anything new or significant after three weeks. But they keep on talking. After a while, one would think that even Fox would get tired of rehashing the moral decline of America because of the current President; one would think even CNN would tire of covering non-stories like Romney’s income or Santorum’s Catholicism. These are significant in a larger context because of the impact they might have on issues like the tax code or women’s health, but by themselves, it’s all just about bacon and fake wood trim.
Are you telling me that after all this time (remember, the last election was in 2008 and this is 2012), the voters don’t know what the candidates stand for, what their positions are, what they would do when they got that 3 am phone call? Well, maybe. It’s because the system we like to call (without blushing) democracy doesn’t allow us to really find out. But wait, the experts say…the primaries and caucuses help winnow down the field, help voters see the candidates “under fire” (if you’ve ever seen even one of those “debates” you know that there is more fire in Taco Bell’s hot sauce than what the candidates face); that it makes each of them sharper and hones their message. What message is that? Did we need a zillion debates and four years to find out Rick Perry is all hat and no cattle? Did we need all that to discover Michele Bachmann was more than a little unctuous and VERY self-important about her calling? Or that Ron Paul wants to go back to a time before there were world maps? Or that Newt Gingrich is for states’ rights (which, as you might imagine, plays well with many in the south)? What we need to know is what Mitt stands for. I mean, really. Just tell us two things: what are your positions and what policies would you put into place to achieve them? In other words, What and How. Period. Maybe the guy will make a good President. Maybe Obama will stop lecturing us and get his hands dirty. As a voter, I don’t want a circus. If I wanted a circus, I’d go to the circus. When you go to the circus you expect just what you get. You don’t get a lecture on quantum physics.
For a presidential election, I want information and honest expositions of the candidates’ record to match against what he or she says. But right now I feel like a man who’s been under a hot light for weeks, like a man who’s been beaten on the soles of his feet, like a man forced to watch endless reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.” Watching U.S. political news is like being subjected to another Kardashian wedding—in slow motion, without the glamour and plunging necklines. I think a month—maybe six weeks—is plenty of time to find out who stands for what. After that, it’s just job security for the commentators and “experts” on the networks and online blogs. It reminds me of what happens in some schools: your kid comes come with ten pages of math work—all the same; she must divide two numbers into three numbers. After the first page, she gets it. After the second page, she really gets it and is bored. By the third page of repetition, she begins to wish she was someplace else. When you ask the school about all the extra work after she has the concept down pat, you get pretty much the same answers as for “why all the debates?” No really good reason, it’s just the way we do it here. So I ask: couldn’t we just stop, re-think, and do it all some other, saner, more democratic way?
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