Sunday, October 7, 2012

American Exceptionalism on the Campaign Trail

When you expect results, and get…this
by Kai Swell

Today, the Obama and Romney campaigns have cumulatively spent $1.14 billion, with at least another $320 million left on the marker for the 30-odd days before November 6th.  Nearly a half a billion ($429 million) was spent on television ads alone.  With crumbling infrastructure, plunging test scores, decreasing social mobility (we’re currently ranked 10th internationally), skyrocketing college tuition, it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of intelligence to see that even at the most basic level our government is laughably inefficient.
    If we tally up the unspent portion, we can safely predict the final total of funds spent on television propaganda, stump speeches, rallies, yard signs, and whatever else a candidate deems vital (lapel pins, anyone?) to be somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars.  Facing record deficits and budget shortfalls, somehow campaign finance reform doesn’t merit attention.  And while this kind of money being incinerated by the wheelbarrow load is unconscionable, it's not even taking into to account senate, congressional, and other political races where further tens and hundreds of millions are being wasted. 
    What we have here, friends, is a failure to communicate.  Or perhaps a failure to understand.  We fail to see that when our elections and politicians are financed by the ├╝ber-wealthy, by corporations, by unlimited, undocumented donations, we are creating a system where our elected officials will be people who will say one thing publicly and do another behind closed doors.  We should expect the outcome that has manifested itself all around us: an increasingly unresponsive, bloated, ineffective two-party government.  We have myriad social problems, 14 trillion in debt, and a campaign finance system that, without any shame at all, spends billions on flimsy, transparent, degrading, Leni Riefenstahl-esque tripe. 
    And yet, in principle, we should expect results from our government.  Not talk, not attack ads, not overtures about hope, change, and taking back our future.  After all, they represent us.  They aren’t there for their own glorification; they’re our employees.  So get to work!  At a minimum, with an ungodly sum like $1.5 billion at their disposal, we should expect our candidates to show us their priorities before we elect them-- not in word, but deed-- by getting involved in our communities, solving problems, and getting their hands dirty.  Who wouldn’t want to see Mitt Romney run a shovel for a few hours?  Let him earn his keep by installing a community garden in LA.  Or by bailing out a faltering school district in Alabama.  And while we’re at it, let’s put a few of those millions toward rebuilding communities devastated by natural disasters.  The PR alone from word-of-mouth, facebook, twitter-- from real people having actual stories about the positive ways they were affected by the candidates, should be more than enough to get elected.  It would put politics back on a human scale.  Not only that, but we might actually see real results from those politician dollars we send to the IRS every year. 
    But barring this outlandish, utopian vision, we could do much better than we are now in innumerable ways.  A lesser known European country, I think it’s called London, or maybe Eng-land (sp?), limits their campaigns to two weeks.  It seems crazy, I know, but it actually works on multiple levels: it keeps the costs from becoming cartoonish, it forces candidates to prioritize communicating their own message instead of spending weeks, months, and years attacking their opponent, and fights apathy, since people aren’t inundated for years with endless campaigns that no one can reasonably be expected to follow.  You never know, it could be a good idea.  But one thing is for sure: our campaigns at present are uniquely American, and another defining example of our “American Exceptionalism.”   An exceptionally bad example.