If you've been paying attention at all over the last few years, it would seem utterly incomprehensible that a plurality of Americans would even contemplate putting the Republicans back into power. But the key term in that sentence is "paying attention," which is quickly becoming our most dire national deficit.
With elections looming, and our nation once again on the verge of exercising our civic privileges and responsibilities, it occurs to me that few things are better suited to take advantage of an attention deficit than political advertisements. I've gotten to the point of treating political ads, especially those in favor of Richard Burr, like Viagra commercials. I pause the TiVo right before they start, go do something else for a few minutes and then fast-forward past them. He's for jobs. And freedom. I get the gist.
With the country mired in myriad complex problems, Republicans tout purported solutions. How do you propose to solve the vexing challenges of our time? "Freedom!" "Lower taxes!" "Liberty!" "Reduce spending!" "Freedom!"
Declaring that you are for "Freedom!" and "Liberty!" is about as philosophically illuminating as organizing political movements around "Ice cream!" "Apple pie!" and "Fuzzy kittens!"
My favorites are the candidates who get initially flustered, then brighten, in a lightbulb moment, and proceed to repeat the buzzwords, only MORE EARNESTLY! How do we create jobs, deal with trade imbalances and entire industries that have been decimated?
*looks into camera*
"FREEDOM!" And "LOWER TAAAXES!" (Said in an ALL-CAPS voice—I call that a Palindrone.) Unfetter the multinational corporations from any form of oversight, regulation or sense of responsibility. And once you set 'em free, if those jobs never come back, well, then, by golly, they were never yours to begin with!
Ron Johnson, a neophyte Republican Wisconsin senatorial candidate, was leading three-term Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in the polls. During a meeting between Johnson and the editorial board of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the board was astonished to find, after pressing him for details on policies, that he had none. In a videotaped encounter, Johnson merely repeated generalities about "reducing spending" and "cutting taxes." This led that conservative paper, which admittedly shared the same ideals of small government, reduced spending and tax cutting, to endorse Feingold for the first time.
"An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight." —Thomas Jefferson
If Jefferson is to be believed, the continued survival of democratic self-government is jeopardized by an unenlightened electorate. Looking at poll numbers in light of recent history, I can't help but believe that Americans would rather be told a simple lie than a complex truth.
In a society reflective of the Jeffersonian ideal, we would stay abreast of current events, informing ourselves from multiple information sources. We would take time to read detailed campaign information, educate ourselves about political candidates and test their assertions for veracity. We would pay far more attention to debates and longer interviews than we do to political ads and nightly news sound bites.
That's a heavy prescription. Perhaps, with a major emphasis on civics and critical thinking in schools, we could move the nation closer to meeting the minimum requirements for participatory democracy in a generation. The short-term prospects of such change, however, are daunting. It's hard enough to get the attention of a people so busy and so consumed with the trappings of consumer culture.
On top of that, though, we have active, organized and determined opposition to the very notion of a nation "by the people and for the people," in the "person" of the shadowy corporate donors granted anonymity by the Orwellian-named Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. These groups, flush with money from this country's ruling class, as well as that of foreign nations seeking to purchase a more perfect union, are working furiously to ensure that perniciously simple lies are being amplified and broadcast all across the country. How, then, do we counter the power of simple lies? Simple truths.
- Corporations are NOT people. And if they were, chances are they wouldn't be very pleasant people. They exist solely to make a profit. If buying elections makes them more profitable and can be proven cost-effective, you can bet they will do it. Extending to them the unlimited ability to funnel undisclosed money, even foreign money, into our elections is an absolute infringement upon the freedoms of actual citizens to have their voices heard, through support of candidates of their choosing, across the political spectrum.
- Making stuff is better than buying stuff. After 9/11, then-President Bush didn't tell the people to save or sacrifice, he told them to shop. Doing otherwise, he told us, would be "letting the terrorists win." Steady manipulation of interest rates over the years has led to a consumer-driven economy, composed of smoke and mirrors and built on top of bubbles. Corporations have exported American jobs more than any other product, and have been rewarded with ever-sweeter tax deals as payment. Any candidate who cannot articulate a detailed strategy for creating jobs beyond "let's give out a bunch more tax breaks like we've been doing and hope for the best" is not deserving of public office.
- The current income distribution in this country is obscene and not the result of the super-rich just working really hard. The policies of previous administrations, especially George W. Bush's billionaire tax cuts, led to the present hyperconcentration of wealth, in which the top 1 percent of Americans owns 35 percent of the wealth. President Obama, as part of the stimulus package, cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. His efforts to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for only the wealthiest Americans (who, studies have shown, do NOT create jobs with their excess) have met with unanimous opposition by Republicans, as well as by a number of business-backed Democrats. The Bush tax cuts, during war time, caused the national debt to skyrocket. They not only failed, epically, to produce the jobs and prosperity that was promised, they helped precipitate the second-worst economic catastrophe in our nation's history. Somehow, though, there were no tea parties on that president's watch, nor sanctimonious national checkbook watchers threatening armed insurrection over that orgy of deficit spending. The cost of not allowing these fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire is a whopping four trillion dollars.
If you care about the future of democracy in this country, vote. And if you know anyone who is on the fence about voting, or unsure of which candidate to support, encourage them, with simple truths, to cast their ballot for the one with the most substance, as opposed to the one with the most face time.
Apart from that, the only solution I can see would be to make a rule requiring political ads to carry a disclaimer, just like all of those drug commercials: WARNING: Side effects may include social instability and inducement of voting against your economic interests. If symptoms persist, cease viewing.