Friday, April 20, 2012

Ruling by Ruse

The Founding Fathers who disdained partisan politics were absolutely right to do so. In their small scale society in which the exclusive electorate knew personally the candidates, there could have been little reason to run big, expensive campaigns.

Fast forward to today, and the vast majority of the greatly expanded electorate has virtually no knowledge of the candidates. The rather absurdist result is that sound bites define the candidates. That being the case, millions of dollars must be spent blanketing the public with sound bites intended to reflect what the focus groups indicate they want.

We poor money into polling, mailing flyers and decorating lawns with campaign signs, phone calls, websites, photo shoots, photo ops, traveling across the country to glad-hand in an attempt to convince poor sods that you are just like them. The party apparatus serves to give structure and function to this giant machine as it rumbles towards election day.

Personally, I doubt that any meaningful democracy can long survive such an approach to politics.

As campaigns get longer and longer, and more and more money is laid out in efforts to blind the American public to the glaring flaws of the one while hyperbolizing the minute problems of the other, cynicism will grow. As people know less and less about their candidates--and consequently their elected representatives--they will care less and less about the result. Why bother voting when we neither know the candidates nor can reliably know that for which they stand?

The end result, which we see plenty of today, is that candidates stake out positions that sound really good to their base but which do nothing meaningful in terms of either advancing discourse or achieving long-term goals. Want to pass a Buffett Rule? Go for it. But do not pretend that it will solve our budget problem. Want to slash entitlement spending? Go for it. But do not pretend that it will not drastically alter the economy. Want to balance the budget? Try raising taxes AND cutting spending. Any other proposition is a disingenuous ruse to mollify the electorate.

No comments: