I’ve already written about who I’m voting for and why in this election. Besides, while I’m writing this column before Election Day, it won’t be published until a couple of days after. So, picking the best candidate is no longer up for discussion.
What is up for discussion is the mindless, empty and boring political season this has been on all fronts and in all the races. We needed serious discussions about the issues that matter, and there are a lot of them. What is the plan for America’s war against terrorism? What is happening to America’s vanishing middle class? What will our retirement look like? What is the future of Medicare?
But all we received were wildly expensive advertising campaigns.
CNBC.com has estimated that the final tally of campaign spending in the presidential race will be in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion dollars. That’s right, billion. The news site breaks that down to equal roughly $26 dollars per second spent by President Obama and Governor Romney to sell themselves to us. In the other high profile race that was before Massachusetts voters, CBSnews.com estimated that Senator Brown and his challenger, Elizabeth Warren, will spend well over $60 million to win our vote.
It’s infuriating to most Americans to see such senseless and disproportionate sums of money being wasted on political advertising.
But that’s really not the problem.
It’s not the candidates’ fault if they’ve decided that the only way they can win high national office is to slam us in the head with ugly and usually distorted attacks on their opponents. The hard truth is that the candidates spend these vast sums on negative advertising because it works. We buy it.
And buying it is the name of the game. The news is delivered to us by large businesses that ultimately have to make a profit to stay in business. Controversy sells newspapers. It also makes us hesitate for a few seconds as we click our way up and down through the television channels. High minded discussion of the ins and outs of the important issues may make a lot of sense, but we instead skip ahead to the stories about the candidates calling each other thieves and liars.
And in response, the television networks, who keep detailed and highly targeted records of our viewing profiles and then charge advertisers accordingly, are always happy to give us more of what we’re already buying.
The candidates themselves contort their positions and their platforms like pretzels to avoid any unnecessary backlash. President Clinton’s campaign masterminds famously dubbed their policy "triangulation," which was just a polite way of saying that they successfully prepared him to say whatever the polls showed that most people wanted to hear that day.
That type of distorted pandering to the next crowd and the next news cycle has become the real philosophy of every major candidate in every major race. Why? Not because the candidates are necessarily all hypocrites. They only do it because it works. And it works because we let it work.
Wasn’t it refreshing, in the middle of a hotly contested political season, to see the top Democrat, President Obama, and one of the leaders of today’s Republican Party, New Jersey’s Governor Christie, walking side by side and shaking hands as they came together to discuss helping the residents of Christie’s storm ravaged state?
It’s up to us to decide whether or not our television driven, twitterized national political process has any chance of ever becoming valid and truly representational of our hopes and dreams.
It’s up to us to make our political candidates talk sensibly to us with honesty and candor. Candidates are only going to continue to give us what we want.
Bill Donovan writes regularly for The Advocate. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.