Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Do we not sense that we are part of a group?

In California yesterday there was an election for Governor. It was a primary and the two democratic candidates collectively spent 70 million dollars on their campaigns. From what I’ve been able to gather, both candidates were in almost total agreements on the issues and their campaigns were mostly focused on trying to smear their opponents. Is it any wonder we as voters don’t want to be part of the process? I can’t imagine what it was like to be subjected to the candidates crap on TV, on the radio, in direct mail, calling all hours of the day on the phone. It would be enough to make me find some fringe candidate to vote for as a protest.

But California is not alone. The same will happen here in Pennsylvania when Casey runs against Santorum and Rendell takes on Swann. It’s going to be simply insane. Now tell me why this is a useful way to spend our resources?

What has happened is that we’ve gotten into a game of “keep up with the Joneses”. To win, one thinks, I have to get more exposure than the other guy. I need more TV and I need more face time. So, like an arms race, the well funded campaigns escalate their spending.

Is there a better way? Of course there is. Campaign Finance Reform in the form of financial limits, full public financing and limited, rationed TV commercials would be a start but nobody is going to push for this stuff on their own. Both parties at the national level need to work this out for themselves. Do you think they will? Of course not. Like our government, these parties are full of people who are making money off of the very practices they push onto candidates. So what do we do?

We demand more of our candidates. I’m planning on writing to the major candidates and telling them that they aren’t getting my vote if they run too many negative ads or if I get too many campaign calls. If all of you do the same, if all voters did the same and actually kept their pledges not to vote for people, change would happen. But the key is that we need to act as a group. And that’s where all of this falls apart.

The same goes for voting and it’s something everyone struggles with when election time comes. It’s the main knock against our electoral system (and any other for that matter). It’s really hard for people to see that acting individually aggregates into a large power.

The same goes for these pledges. If I pledge to not vote for Casey, than unless everyone else agrees with me and does the same I’m essentially voting for Santorum which I really don’t want to happen. So how can the individuals in the group know for sure that what they do will count? This is a fundamental problem that nobody seems to want to address. And I ask all of you what you think? How do we address this?

My initial idea is that if we as a community of voters actually were represented in the media then this wouldn’t be an issue. What I mean is that we need some type of pre-emptive feedback system. And this isn’t a democratic/republican issue. This is a voters/media issue. As an example, think about popular music. How do you find popular music? How does it become popular? What makes a hit? Obviously a good song should make a hit, but how does that happen? Is it all word or mouth? No. The media (MTV, reviewers, radio stations, etc.) all watch us and see what we are buying and what we are talking about and they in turn tell us what is happening. This feedback helps the popular hits to gain traction and more people buy them and there you go, a hit is born. The same can be said for any commodity. In a good market, there is good information that the consumers can use to influence their decisions. In a perfect market, with perfect information, the consumers are fully informed and can make perfect decisions. This is an ideal, but one that we can strive for. In the case of elections, we are at the opposite end of that ideal. We have no real information at either side of the election. Is it any wonder we feel disenfranchised?

What do you all think?

2 comments:

Blake said...

I like the song analogy. Its also another debate for another time, whether or not good music (or art in general) is democratic, I am constantly flip flopping on that one (its a very deep question that involves lots of philosophical rhetoric).

Anyway, back to elections. I think the feedback system your talking about the media being involved in is starting to happen, in the form of blogs, like yours! The problem is there are so many of them that there isn't any clear message delivered by one large group. And there shouldnt be b/c thats not how this country is made up. Well in some sense it is, thats why the R's have been so successful. They all rally around the same key points, and all the peripheral issues fall in line. Whereas the D's are trying to tackle too many issues without doing anything substantial about any single one. And its politics, and its a shame. Say what you will about Howard Dean, but I felt really bad for him. Heres a guy, who imo, truelly cared about serving the public, so much so that his passion (and inexperience, which is a good thing in this political climate) was ultimately his very weakness. We all want these guys to be honest, and if they are gonna take a chance and do so then they are going to be expoiting their flaws as well, thats why all these guys put on sheeps clothing and simply take shots at the other guy.

This also makes me think of the party structure in philly, which contributes to this problem. Candidates are predominately on their ability to get elected, not on their ability to legislate. I dont know where I'm going with this...maybe when they do their initial polling to see what a candidates viability is or instead of filling out petitions (which is obviously outdated, as only a small fraction of signers typically know the candidate they are petitioning for) they should have a panel of professors, judges, journalist, or some other group of intelligent people who can act impartially to screen candidates. That sounds dangerous now that I think about it, but maybe they could at least interview them and publish the candidates opinions in plain english for voters to read, rather than reading through campaign propaganda which never tells you anything other than trying to burn that candidates last name in your head.

trace said...

Blake, to your first point about Dean. I was a huge supporter and I think that he got shafted for 2 reasons. First was the primary process. After not cleaning up in those first few states, Dean lost his money. Second was the fact that high ups in his own party conspired to get him out of the race (again, read Crashing the Gates!!). Dean should have been our party nomineee and he could have beat GWB.

Now, on to what you are talking about with the screening process. Yea, I actually like that idea as a very rough concept. Sure, on the surface there are lots of problems with it, but the core concept of choosing nominees that are qualified on merit is a wonderful idea. But again, remember that almost all politicians don't go into the job becasue they are qualified. In fact, as you can imagine, most go into it for the exact opposite reason. Pick any great CEO and tell me if he/she would make a good leader in the public sector, then tell me if that same person would even try to run.