Fixing The Election … Process (Part 2)

In my previous post, I offered five ways to fix our election process that will probably never happen because they depend on Congress taking positive action. Today I’m writing about something that we can all do, individually, to make our elections better.

As a decidedly amateur photographer, I know that the easiest thing in the world is to take a bad picture of someone. I can take a dozen shots of a person, and even if we’re both trying to make the best portrait possible, half of the shots are going to turn out with the subject’s eyes looking away, their mouth contorted in some momentary grimace, or whatever.

This being election season, we all are reminded dozens of times an hour of how everyone can be ugly, even if it’s just for the instant of a shutter click. There’s probably a whole industry, these days, of finding crappy pictures of political candidates, so their opponents can use them in ads and make fun of them.

Because that’s where our political system is now. It’s less about building your own candidate up than tearing the other candidate down. And that’s never more true than this year, when both major-party presidential candidates have sported record-low likability ratings.

And of course I know you’ve read this many times before, but please bear with me; I’ll try to be brief. (And don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.)

Because here’s the thing. We always—and especially this year—hear people saying they’re voting for “the lesser of two evils.” It’s one of the biggest political cliches in America. But I’m here to tell you that in my lifetime, I’ve never had to choose between “two evils.” And I’ll go even further and state that very seldom is there even one “evil” on the ballot.

Politicians are not inherently bad people. I firmly believe that almost all of them got into politics for good reasons: to serve the country, to improve the way government works, to help people, etc. Maybe their ideas are different from mine, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

But like the portrait photographer who ends up with some bad shots, it’s child’s play to take a political opponent’s decisions and micro-analyze them, and frame them so that the opponent looks like the devil’s lieutenant. (Candidate X opposed that anti poverty program: he loathes people like you and me. OR: Candidate X supported that anti-poverty program: he wants to take your money and hand it to lazy freeloaders.) Throw that together with some of those unflattering portraits into a 30-second commercial, and you’ve made your case that Candidate X is evil.

Easy work if you can get it, and a lot of people make a awful lot of money in election years making ads just like that.

All I’m saying is, don’t buy into it. Try not to pay attention to the negativity. Use the mute button. Pause and fast-forward the DVR. Change the channel, if necessary.

I know it’s hard, if you’re leaning toward a particular candidate, not to cheer for the negative ads against the opponent. But you have to keep in mind that those ads are just as dishonest as the ones slamming your own favored candidate.

Even if you really, really hate the other candidate, when you cast your ballot, try to think of your vote as being for your candidate, and not just against the other person. Try not to dwell on the negative.

It does require a little investment on your part—a willingness to actually get yourself behind a political candidate and support what they stand for. Politics and government do matter in our society, but only if people, all of us, are willing to collectively make that investment.

Don’t just vote to keep someone out of office; find candidates who you agree with, and vote to hire them to make the kind of change you want to see.

Thanks, as always, for reading … and happy voting!


Inspired By Mitt

Sure, there are other reasons I wanted to try life without caffeine for a while. Lent was one, sleep issues another. But there was also something about watching this guy perform in the presidential derby last year that was pretty inspirational. He went toe-to-toe with the president of the United States and, in this first debate, scored a clear knockdown. And even though he has multiple hundreds of millions of dollars stashed away, he was able to convince other people to give him multiple hundreds of millions more so he could run for president.

And he never touches caffeine of any kind.

Now, I’m not going to vouch for the veracity of anything he said. Just between you and me, I didn’t even vote for the guy. But there’s no denying that he’s accomplished a lot, and all of it with a kind of energy that I never knew could come from anything but a few pots of coffee.

So, by ditching the java myself, I hope to find, within myself, a bit of whatever Mitt’s having.


Related posts on Shoulblog:

So Long, Caffeine

Day 3

The Lent Trap

A Campaign About Nothing?

Talk about “vapid.”

On “Morning Joe” today (click for link), the panelists sat around and complained about how little substance there is in this year’s presidential campaign.

“Am I the only one depressed here?” asks Joe. Then the other panelists groan and say yes, they, too, are depressed by this state of affairs. They of course have video clips to illustrate this sad state of affairs.  At about 4:08 in this segment, they show a half minute or so from Mitt Romney’s, and then Barack Obama’s stump speeches. Romney mocks Obama for defending Sesame Street characters, and Obama outlines the symptoms of “Romnesia.” Basically, they’re just sniping at each other with petty taunts. Pretty much standard fare in any political campaign, this year or any year.

From there, for the next 15 minutes or so, the “Morning Joe” panel talks about how unsubstantial the campaign is.

But those two clips are all they showed of the candidates talking. Now, I didn’t see the speeches in question, but I think we can be fairly sure that both men spent a great deal of time talking about matters of a great deal more importance than Big Bird.

And this kind of stuff goes on all the time, particularly on the cable news networks that have a lot of time to fill up during the day. They sit and complain about the lack of substance in the campaigns, but all they seem to talk about is the minutia. Tagg Romney wants to punch the president! Binders full of women! Donald Trump!

In fact, I think this has been one of the more substantive campaigns that we’ve seen in recent years. We’ve had four debates that have covered an awful lot of ground and delineated many differences between the candidates, and even if we think one candidate was better or more honest or more presidential than the other, we can at least agree they talked about a lot of important stuff.

But if you’re going to cherry-pick a minute of video to show the candidates at their worst, and then use that to push your “vapid campaign” talking point for the day, all I can say is, Joe, you’re missing a great story.

My Favorite Year

Today is “Leap Day,” that day in which we celebrate the failure of the earth to adequately synchronize its rotation and revolution cycles. Because if this, it takes us just a little more than a five hours more than exactly 365 days to get around the sun. This schedule sloppiness means that we have an extra day on the calendar every four years.

Cause for celebration, right? Think again. If you’re like me, you’re working today. And technically, since today would be a Wednesday whether it was February 29 or March 1, the extra day we have in 2012 is really the last day of the year—our December 31 this year would have been January 1 of next year, if it weren’t for the above-mentioned rotation/revolution snafu. And December 31, 2012? It’s a Monday. We get an extra Monday for our troubles this year.

But I do always look forward to Leap Years, for two reasons, which won’t surprise anyone who knows me: the Summer Olympics and the presidential election. Both quadrennial events are eminently fascinating, full of drama, and they’ll dominate the “News” and “Sports” sections of the newspaper. (OK, the Olympics become almost invisible outside of their three-week window, but oh, what a great three weeks that is.)

Both, of course, bring their share of angst. The Olympics have become commercialized almost beyond recognition, and network-television hype can be pukeworthy at times. But still, you know that over the course of that three weeks, you’re going to see some unforgettable moments of sheer beauty: a breathtaking 200m dash; an intense back-and-forth duel in a 1,500-meter run; a gritty nothing-held-back decathlon … and that’s just in the track and field events.

Likewise, there will be some dark days when the political negativity will be overwhelming between now and election day in November. Still, it’s fascinating, and there’s no denying that this stuff is important. Even though, at this point, it looks like this won’t be a particularly close election, you just know that the results will be at least somewhat in doubt until the polls close and the votes are counted.

So fasten your seatbelts; it may or may not be a great year, but we know it will be an interesting one.

Countdown To Zero

So Keith Olberman and MSNBC have parted ways. No word yet on what he’ll do next, but he’s obviously an eloquent, talented and passionate guy, and he’ll undoubtedly wind up with a good gig somewhere. Heck, maybe even back at ESPN, though I doubt it.

The thing is, the three minutes and 12 seconds in that YouTube video is probably more than the total time I watched his show while it was on the air. And I’m someone who is more likely than not to be in agreement with the things he says.

I just can’t bring myself to watch — or listen to — one-sided political-opinion programming. Life, really, is too short to spend much of it soaking up someone else’s unchallenged opinions. What can you learn from that? Where is the suspense? What entertainment value is there in a show when you know what side the host is going to come down on?

For the same reason, it baffles me why anyone would give up their precious time to listen to Rush Limbaugh or any of his wannabes over at Fox News. Setting aside the fact that their tirades are built on hate (in the forefront) and motivated by profit (behind the curtain), those shows are just boring. If that’s the best thing you can find on the television or radio, wouldn’t you really be better served if you just turned it off?

And although I’ve always felt that the one-sidedness of these shows was the reason I didn’t watch, Conor Friersdorf makes the case in The Daily Dish today that the medium itself is a lousy one for politics:

Yes, I know, television is a very popular medium (mostly because it demands so little from its audience). But it is the worst way to engage politics in America. Compared to reading it is a wildly inefficient time suck. The format itself often strips the issue at hand of all nuance. It rewards demagoguery, and the host’s words disappear into the ether so fast that inaccuracies slip easily past and are seldom corrected for the people misled by them. Often as not, its producers and writers just take insights from the written medium and dumb them down.

Don’t get me wrong. Television is extremely hard to do well. Unfortunately, excelling in the medium and improving political discourse are often at odds.

I used to think that shows like Crossfire had some value, in pitting people of opposite viewpoints against each other and letting them make their points. Sadly, though, that show diminished over time into the back-and-forth shouting matches that seem to characterize political television today: bickering, not debating.

For me, if I want politics these days, I’m reading newspapers or magazines or blogs. If I’m watching television, there’s probably some sports event on.

The Shooter

I didn’t expect to be defending Sarah Palin, but here goes.

It wasn’t long after Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, Ariz., before speculation started flying that the shooter was motivated by hatred of liberals, Democrats and the government in general, and possibly fed by the over-the-top and sometimes violent rhetoric we have heard all too often from conservative politicians, shock-jock radio hosts and some in the right-wing media.

We’ve now all probably seen the graphic that Palin posted during the mid-term campaign, showing a number of congressional districts across the country denoted with crosshairs. Even though her ad targets districts and not people, the imagery is repugnant, as was her call to “not retreat, but reload.” But the ad and the comments were part of a political effort to win seats in the election. “Targeting” a district in an election is a lot different from calling for someone to shoot that district’s representative.

Anyway, based on what we know, I’m guessing the shooter never even saw that poster, and wouldn’t take marching orders from Palin or the Limbaugh gang anyway.

Here’s the YouTube page of the alleged shooter: (click!) It doesn’t take long to realize that the creator of these “videos” is a seriously deranged, paranoid individual. It’s going to take a team of psychoanalysts years to sort out the tangled motivations that led him to do what he did.

My guess, based on what I’ve seen so far, is that he wouldn’t have been fired up by comments from the extreme right, or by Sarah Palin, any more than he could have been soothed by reassurances from Rep. Giffords or from anyone in the government. He seems like someone who checked out from reality some time ago, and his motivations — while there may have been some element of politics, somewhere in there — aren’t something that the rest of us are going to understand.

I actually heard CNN “experts” Saturday afternoon speculating on whether he was mentally ill. Seems to me that he pretty much defines mentally ill.

I’d love to blame the tragedy on Limbaugh or on Sarah Palin, or on the endless violence on our television, movies and videogames. But I think this blogger had it just about exactly right.

My question is, how does this guy purchase a semi-automatic pistol? I’m not the only one asking.