Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Political Apathy

I don't care about the Presidential Primaries, nor, really, about the Presidential election.

I suppose that makes me a bad American. Whatever.

Maybe its the news cycle and the same coverage of the same candidates you see over and over. (The first headline I've seen about candidate Bill Richardson was today when he dropped out of the race. Just sayin'.) The coverage of the elections on CNN and other outlets is full of breathless anticipation, but they don't ever seem to actually care as much about the candidates' records. They do care about how Candidate Y isn't doing as well as expected and what tricky maneuver they can pull or what volume of money they can drop on TV advertising in order to change opinions.

And here's the thing: the tricky maneuvers and the TV advertising seem to work well enough to sway those undecided voters.

I particularly don't care about the Primaries as I have a hard time believing that the Primaries in Iowa or New Hampshire are indicative of much but what people who bother to vote in Primaries, who happen to live in Iowa and New Hampshire, think.

Mostly, I'm just not sure that the best candidates ever get enough attention from the press to give them a fighting chance once the press decides which candidates make the best stories.

I guess I'm now old enough that years go by faster, and it just doesn't seem that long ago that we were enjoying stories about Swift Boats and falsified reports of the President's military service. I know its going to get a lot uglier before it gets better, and that there are a lot of people out there who are part of political campaigns (or who are not but who can afford airtime) who want to win so badly, minor issues like the truth aren't really something to worry about if they get in the way of winning.

I know democratic politics have never been clean. I'm not going to dwell under an illusion of some halcyon days of the American political process, believing the best man won, or, that, heck... the best person would even be willing to run for the job.

I think these days I'm much more interested in local politics and/ or state politics. I live in Texas, and I'm pretty darn sure that I know who is getting my electoral vote, and I'm fairly certain there will be an (R) next to their name on the ballot. It's not a secret I've not been a huge fan of the current administration, nor of the President when he was merely the Governor of Texas. So perhaps the fact that I've voted against Bush multiple times and never seen him lose sort of begins to make one wonder what the point is...

Locally, there's a lot less that seems like an inevitability. Bonds can be passed or turned down. Measures and ideas can be brought to ballot that I can feel effect me.

Unlike national politics, in local politics there's no pondering of things like "Why does the fact that the citizens in Sugarland keep electing Tom Delay mean that he has influence over the rest of the state, let alone the country?" Certainly that's a side-effect of the system, but it still seems kind of silly to me.

I'm not saying I don't want to live in an elected representative government. It beats an authoritarian dictatorship any day. But I'm not comfortable with the smirk people like to throw on when you grumble a bit about these things and say "What, you mean you don't like politicians and politics getting poltical?"

I guess my answer is: No. I really don't. The trust I'm being asked to place in the yahoos I'm sending to office is undermined by the fact that I don't believe half of what they're saying, and I have to be suspicious of the other half because I have to wonder if they're making claims just to get elected. If I suspected that someone I was interviewing for a job was lying to me just to get the job, I wouldn't hire them. And I certainly wouldn't want to trust them with my money, so why on earth would I think that's a good way to choose someone to be responsible for a nuclear arsenal capable of atomizing the planet?

The fact that there are folks who are willing to jump on a candidate's campaign is odd to me, too. I guess maybe I've just never been enthralled enough with the political process enough to want to wear a funny hat and cheer for some yahoo. I guess if someone came along who I didn't find at least a little sketchy, I might think about joining up. But I sorta think that by definition, anyone who thinks they know enough to make decisions for that many people, you kind of have to wonder. There are many ways to serve the public, so what's the drive that gets people to decide to hold office?

I know I'm being cynical and cranky. But if you see a lack of political coverage here, I thought I'd let you know why.

Here's the thing: I do believe in democracy, and I certainly believe in every citizen getting a say with their vote, and an opportunity to run for office if they meet minimum qualifications (and I don't find being 35 and born in the US to be too tough a standard for the guy who keeps their finger on the button). I just think we could probably expect a bit more out of our candidates, and, more importantly, our press. It's not a gameshow, but since that's how Wolf Blitzer seems to want to treat it, the candidates have all figured out their strategy for not getting voted off the island.

Anyhow, I'm tired and I'm going to bed.


Anonymous said...

Two words: RON PAUL.

The League said...

As someone who has a wife on Medicare, thanks... but probably not. We're going to have to agree to disagree about that topic.

J.S. said...

At the risk of poisoning any real chance that I might ever have to hold a political office, let me raise this hypothesis. Maybe the political process in America sucks isn't really because of the candidates or the media or the campaign strategists. Maybe the real reason the political process sucks is because our voters suck. Maybe they don't want to invest the time or attention to understand policy issues beyond soundbites and talking points, and maybe they make their decisions based on nebulous "character issues", which as often as not boil down to the way a candidate wears his hair or the way he speaks (i.e., George Bush is "folksy", though he can't string together a coherent sentence, while John Kerry is pompous, though well spoken) rather than where he stands on the issues. The voters claim to want complete honesty from their candidates while refusing to tolerate candidates who seem openly ambitious (even though every single person who's running for president is ambitious, or they would find a way to serve the public that doesn't drag them through the wringer of the political process or subject them to the media spotlight). American voters claim to detest mudslinging and negative campaigning, yet polls have shown again and again that negative attack ads and hostile political speeches by candidates bring voters out to the polls (in truth, I think voters love the spectacle of a good, bloody fight, and nothing pleases them more than watching some high dollar politician crash and burn).
Anyway, everyone bemoans the ridiculousness of the American political system, but I think it's nothing more than a reflection of the constituency which it serves. If our voting populace was better educated and didn't reward so much negative behavior and sensationalism, we would probably see a lot less of it.

By the way. Ron Paul is a nut.

The League said...

To play devil's advocate, the public can only understand what is given to them. There's a certain level of give-and-take to what the press covers and how the public absorbs the messages. I would argue that campaign managers are aware of how the press will pick up a story and craft their messages in a manner that doesn't leave any room for the press to make interpretations.

How well does the press cover lesser-known candidates from the beginning? Why didn't the press feel the race for the Democratic nominee was between Kucinich and Dodd and put them on the covers of magazines? Both have lengthy political records, and one would argue, of more significance than either Clinton or Obama. Or why is Mitt Romney the front contender merely because he's crazy rich?

Neither local news nor national news coverage does much to cover the nominees nor report on their stances. They do cover how much money they've raised, what states they've visited... strategy issues, not issues regarding how they'll manage social security for the next fifty years.

Just as carefully, candidates don't want to show their cards and put up a pie-in-the-sky plan that won't ever get congressional approval (remember when Hillary was going to fix healthcare?).

So what are these people saying on the road? Taxes? War on Terrorism? Education? Kids? Future?

So what?

Is the formula then?

Glittering generalities from candidates
+ media's focus on non-issues
+ public's inability to do their own research
= winning candidate


I say we go Thunderdome. I tell you, I think you'd see a whole new Fred Thompson. Homeboy looks like he knows how to land a punch.

Anonymous said...

Steans boys,

I think you're both right.

And that makes me depressed. Not because you're both right, but because of the points you raised.


RHPT said...

My biggest problem with our election process is the Electoral College. I hate to question the Founding Fathers, but I think the country has come to a point where direct democracy is better.

Just like you stated, your vote in a red state will not count. Neither will mine, since I also live in a red state. It makes it harder to convice someone who wants to vote for the blue candidate that they should take the time out to vote when that vote will not really count.

That's not a democracy.

Also, it makes kingmakers of a few states, such as Ohio, Flordia, and other so called "Swing states".

The League said...

Wasn't there a book recently that explained and defended the electoral college?

In the 21st Century, I see no reason why the electoral college continues to exist. If we can now accurately measure and report the actual popular vote, it seems fair to reconsider the electoral college.

Anonymous said...

I vote in 8 days.

So I've been paying attention. I am still undecided, actually, so I am REALLY paying attention.

There has never - ever - in the history of this country been more information available about political candidates. It's out there if you want it, and I'm not just talking about the candidates' websites (which are voluminous) or partisan issue gruops (aplenty).

I watch the Sunday morning talk shows every morning, and believe me, Bill Richardson was a familiar face thereupon. If you're interested, set your Tivo to record "This Week," "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," or even "Fox News Sunday," which are more in line with true issue and discussion shows and not the cable shout-fests.

You can read via RSS the opinion pages of every newspaper in this country with ease. Magazines have websites and bloggers. It's fascinating and fun to follow. I haven't been this interested in a presidential race in many years.

In sum, the information is out there.

The League said...

I always like me some Meet the Press, if I'm awake when its on. I have to think JMD is right. There is info out there. Going back to Steanso's points about the voters as consumers of information, it seems JMD and Steanso make a really good point.

I've done, probably, more research on Republican candidates during this cycle than democratic candidates, mostly looking at websites which compare candidate's statements across certain issues. Mostly because I haven't thought about a Republican candidate since 2000.

That doesn't mean I've done as much research as I should or could. Note feelings listed above on much of process.

I will not, of course, ask JMD who he voted for. But I have long known JMD to be someone who gives many candidates not only a chance, but who is active in seeking out candidates when they visit his locale. Wish I had that kind of interest. A lot more candidates came to Phoenix than Austin.

RHPT said...

I think JMD's comment reinforces my point that the Electoral College is outdated. With all the world's information at our fingertips, and 24-hour news channels, talk radio, and Sunday Morning news shows, I think its safe to let the populate directly vote for the president.

The League said...

Again, I'd like to see that book on the electoral college. As I recall, the argument for keeping it in place was supposed to be somewhat persuasive.