I owe my career to the big and small screens. As an actor in movies like The Great Santini and Caddyshack, and on television shows like Roseanne and many others, I've seen the power of the screen to capture and communicate some of our more cherished values. If you didn't come away from Caddyshack with a clear moral message, I don't know what to tell you.
But in spite of my affection for TV and movies, in the next few days I'm tempted to throw away the remote. Just not even go near the TV screen. Because the closer we get to the Nov. 2 elections, the more frequent all the mudslinging political TV commercials will get. They're just noise; no real talk about issues. Most of them are soul-sucking, brain-draining, amp-up-the-volume, corporate-paid trash. (And I'm talking about ads from all political parties.) How is anyone supposed to understand what a candidate really stands for when they watch political commercials today?
We might think we can tune them out, and some of us are probably more successful than others (and TiVo helps), but I've decided that the only way to get good information is to find it elsewhere. If enough people do this, in fact, maybe politicians and special interest groups -- and now corporations, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in January -- will get the point that we think their campaigns ads are poisonous.
We do need to know the issues, though. We can't just walk away from the campaigns and elections altogether because we're disgusted with the negative ads. That would be, especially this year, like handing over Congress to special interests. We need to educate ourselves and our friends and family about what's at stake (which is a lot), who's saying what about the issues and what it means to us. How can we vote if we don't know what we're voting for?
I made a list of how I'm going to get my information about political campaigns while I'm doing my "screen test" between now and Nov. 2:
- Spend some time visiting the candidates' websites. Everybody has his or her views on the big issues listed right there on the site. Of course, there's always a chance that they're not telling you the whole story, but this is a good start. Find out where they stand on the Fair Elections Now Act to place elections back in the hands of voters, or the DISCLOSE Act to shine a light on outside corporate money in elections. And if an issue that's important to you isn't covered, reach that candidate's office any way you can to get the answer.
- Go to They Win, U Lose. This new website uses candidates' own words in video and text to reveal agendas that contrast with what you are hearing publicly. It emphasizes transparency, accountability and empowerment in political races nationwide, but especially in these important states: Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
- Read the local newspaper. I still have faith in the newsgathering and reporting abilities of our newspapers and news magazines, whether on actual paper or on screens. The Internet can be tricky -- maybe even trickier to navigate than TV ads. Anybody can say anything. But newspapers often have pages where candidates state their views, plus they'll of course run the latest stories about debates, exposés and political blogs. Some national newspapers (The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc.) will cover big races, too.
- Text or e-mail (or call! Or invite over!) my friends who are really into politics. I have a few friends who just seem to know everything about what's happening with campaigns and issues; you probably do too. Maybe they'll be able to speak your language better than any newspaper or website can, so that you'll be able to get to the point with a lot less angst.
What do you do when you want to understand political candidates and issues? Let us all know your ideas, so we can all feel the power.
Special interests are spending hundreds of millions of dollars because they fear you. They fear what a flood of voters (like they saw in 2008) can do to our politics. They're hoping that the negative ads they're financing will turn you off and that you'll tune out and stay home on Election Day. Don't let them be right. Educate yourself. Mobilize your friends, your contacts, your followers and the people you follow to get out and vote on Nov. 2. There's still time.
And put down the remote.