SoundBytes and Trivia Dominate Election08
Are you bored yet?
Have you seen one talking head too many?
Are your ears still ringing with the sounds of one primary projection after another?
Does exit poll sound like a dirty word?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then fear not. You are very probably not alone. We are one year on from the launch of the party nomination campaigns. By the time the next President is elected in November 2008, we will have survived nearly two years of constant and intense political bombardment. In a country that is big on instant gratification and where attention spans can be shorter than one episode of American Idol, this is to put it mildly, a problem.
For as much as Republican and Democratic candidates have bandied about the word change -- as if it was the latest "in" word, something a teenager might use in lieu of "whatever" or "as if" or "wicked" -- the process itself is unchanged. The candidates' policies and positions are forced to take a back seat because the elections process itself is flawed.
It's quite simply a matter of overexposure.
Christophe AlÃƒÂ©vÃƒÂªque, a French comedian and political satirist, says most people believe what you tell them, especially if you repeat it. Most people do believe what you tell them, especially if you repeat it.
The televised debates, the caucuses, the primaries certainly add up to provide that repetitive factor, however the drawback is that voters are not given the time to digest any of the information they are bombarded with. This is especially problematic when faced with selecting a party nominee because the nuances in policy and position are so subtle. The differences between Democrats are relatively minor when compared to their differences with Republicans and vice versa. When party candidates disagree with each other it is normally over a difference in methodology and not a difference of objective. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both promised to make health care nearly universal, yet the measures that they propose to achieve this aim, differ.
It is exceedingly difficult for even the most dedicated citizen to remain completely and actively engaged in every element of the campaign process. Every time you pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, you are confronted with more sound bites, more talking heads and their opinions, more of everything that has turned so many people off to politics altogether.
And those who don't simply tune out find themselves falling back on the cornerstone of the American political process: personality politics. They focus on character traits like trustworthiness, experience and leadership skills and by doing so, we find ourselves right back where we started, taking the easy way out.
It is much easier to make an election a popularity contest than to center it on complex and controversial issues and this suits the established order just fine. The special interests and the lobbyists -- those people and institutions who wield power in the political framework without having to account for it -- do not want the American people to think.
You've only to look at how the media is manipulated; you've only to see the utter rubbish that passes as television programming in this country to understand how desperate the establishment is for America's masses to remain uninformed. It would be an inconvenience to the politicians and the corporations that they go out of their way to advantage, if all of a sudden the general populace demanded concrete answers and was no longer a malleable mass of humanity.
The US is the only so-called developed country where calling someone articulate is more likely to be considered an insult than a compliment. And for as long as you can have cute, little Southern belles on a TV show called Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader expressing shock upon finding out that Hungary is a country and not just what happens when you haven't eaten, then America will continue to be its own worst enemy.
There's another French proverb that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. It certainly applies here. You look at the Democrats and on the surface it appears that voting either for a black man or a woman is a pretty radical change. You look at the Republicans and see John McCain in a strong position to secure the nomination despite ambivalence if not down right antagonism from large factions of the party. McCain is not a Republican's Republican; he is more moderate if not more liberal than many party members are comfortable with. If he wins the party nomination -- as appears increasingly likely -- the hardliners will either suck it up and vote for him or abstain from voting altogether.
It all speaks of disenchantment with the way that politics have been run in this country lately. And yet there is no major change in the process. Democracy is based on the idea of a majority rule, of government run by the people and for the people. The political process must reach out to and involve the majority of the American population. It has to empower them to make judgments based on a comprehensive understanding of the issues. The process has to be broken down -- not dumbed down -- so that it is accessible, so that citizens want to get involved and don't feel like they need a degree from an Ivy League school in order to do so.
Unless and until these changes are made, change, like any other "in" word, will be replaced with something else.