Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Election Circus

Robert Reich posted an article called "The Perils of Circus Politics" on his blog yesterday, which has an excellent summary of what's been happening in the US presidential election process:

...electoral success depends mainly on showmanship and self-promotion.

Telling the truth and advancing sound policies are less important than trending on social media.

Being reasonable is less useful than gaining attention.

Offering rational argument is less advantageous than racking up ratings.

Reich offers this as a reason for this state of affairs:

Americans have stopped trusting the mediating institutions that used to filter and scrutinize potential leaders on behalf of the rest of us.

Political parties are now widely disdained.

Many Americans now consider the “mainstream media” biased.

And no opinion leader any longer commands enough broad-based respect to influence a majority of the public.

I don't disagree with any of that, but I think there's more to the story. I wrote recently about ways in which representative government is failing to actually represent the constituents. As a voter, if I feel that my vote doesn't really make much of a difference because of a rigged system, I'm a lot less likely to bother making an informed decision. If I vote at all, I'll probably go for a name I recognize from being on TV or in my social media feed.

Another part of the problem is that we're paying attention to this process at all right now. The 2016 US Presidential election is a year away, and we've already spent months hearing about candidates on a daily basis. By the time we actually elect someone, the voters will have spent about 18 months hearing on a daily basis about these candidates. It's hard to stay interested in anything for 18 months, much less the complex and often boring topics that make up political platforms. It's no wonder that the more interesting candidates rise to the top, even if "interesting" isn't truthful or rational.

I do my best to ignore presidential politics until a week or two before the primary election in my state, and do the same again until a few weeks before the general election. Ignoring the circus won't make it go away, sadly, but at least I don't have to pay attention to it.

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