Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Change, Hope, Work, and the Modern Candidate

Before reading this I should warn you, I am about to sound very cynical. I want you to take my cynicism with a grain of salt, and I want you to vote. I want you to vote for the candidate who you feel you should. Vote for the candidate who has said something that makes you think, "Wow, that's a great idea, and I think that's what America should do." Now, on to the cynicism.

This election is rigged. It's not rigged in the classical sense of the term. There's no Ken Blackwell quietly arranging to stuff the ballot box through careful application of law. There's no one purging voter rolls of, well, voters... yet. The election is rigged in the same way that everything in American life is rigged now. The meaningful choice has been removed. The media, through no fault of any individual, has eliminated choice at the behest of its master. Who, you ask? Who is this Orwellian demon, pulling at the strings of the American polity? It's you. It's me. It's the American people themselves. They have demanded the eradication of their choices. Simply put, choosing a president through the means one was historically chosen takes a great deal of time, time that we no longer want to give to the subject. In 19th century America politics was the entertainment. By the 1970's politics was competing with entertainment, and by the late 1990's it had been reprocessed to fit into the entertainment format of today. Unfortunately, we no longer consider listening to lectures by great minds entertaining, and anything longer than 20 minutes plus commercials had better have a budget in the tens of millions of dollars and star Brad Pitt or his wife.

To meet our entertainment demands the news media has been forced to choose who to cover. The medium of television would allow for serious 3 hour specials on the background and views of virtually every candidate whose name you've heard this year, and Americans do watch enough TV for that. However, they won't watch that, not even in the middle of a writers' strike. It's sad, but true. If they would, the media would have done it gladly because it would be cheap to produce. Instead, they're stuck to excluding people from debates just to make them more than hand-raising and true or false questions. On both the left and the right candidates have accused the media of manipulating the coverage. They have, but at whose behest? The behest of the American people. The candidates that raise money well and poll well get coverage, and others are excluded from it. As a result the candidates that get coverage raise more money and poll better. Go figure. As such the media ends up creating false dichotomies. This is most glaring on the Republican side where many candidates have enjoyed their time at the top. First it was Giulianni and Romney. Then it was Thompson and Romney. Then it was Romney and Huckabee. Then it was Romeny and McCain. Then Romney did poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now it'll be McCain and Huckabee. The point is, though, that the format of TV news and newspaper/internet headlines makes two candidates preferable, and the drama of the political race makes a new winner/frontrunner a necessity at every turn. To listen to the news you'd think that Obama had handed Hillary her ass in Iowa and vice versa in New Hampshire. In reality, the former is somewhat true and the latter patently false. New Hampshire splits up their delegates, so Obama is still out front, but the story of an ass whipping in the first round and a comeback in the second is so Rocky Balboa that we just but right into it. The choreography of the campaigns is so adjusted to this hyper-re-activity of the media that it begins to resemble Japanese No theater in which every move is calculated, deliberate, and intensely restrained. We never see a candidate deviate from message. The message is deliberately altered to suit the moment. No one even expects that candidates say what they mean. In fact, much of the commentary is on whether they seemed believable. It is implicitly assumed in the modern world that their message is void of content, and, as such, critique tends to focus on the skill with which it is delivered. People discuss whether or not a candidate can win as much as if they should win, and everyone falls for it. The false dichotomy created in the "frontrunners" results in most informed people choosing between the candidate that they want to vote for and the media darling that they least despise. (In the interests of full disclosure I like both Kucinich and Paul because of their stances on the war, civil liberties, and monetary policy, which, while different, are both realistic and show a real comprehension of the issues involved. Barring those two, I like Edwards. By the time of the Tennessee primary I will probably vote for Obama, or rather, against Hillary.)

What is an individual to do about this? God knows. I suppose the answer is inform yourself outside of TV media, and then vote for who you really believe in. That said, it is a bit like being in a Mexican standoff and being the first guy to lower your gun.

One final note:
I find Bill Clinton's heavy campaigning for his wife utterly distasteful. Former presidents, even ones with such clear affiliations, should recuse themselves from active political life.

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