10/16/2012 03:29 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

The Election: The New Reality Show

Are we better off now than we were four years ago? That seems to be the question of the day.

Today, we are entrenched in the land of the empty chair. Political discourse reduced not to big issues of policy, even though millions of Americans are struggling with unemployment, homes are under water and education is failing our children so badly that Condoleezza Rice said it is "the civil rights issue of our day."

And while social media affords us instant information and the ability to instantly react, I fear it also makes it too easy to just sit back and accept what is said.

As Hendrik Hertzberg said recently in the New Yorker of the first presidential debate:

"By the end of the ninety minutes, Romney had retrofitted himself as the defender of Medicare, the advocate of Wall Street regulation, the scourge of the big banks, the enemy of tax cuts for the rich, and the champion of tax relief for the middle class. All these claims are spectacularly false; all went entirely, or mostly, unrefuted."

When I was growing up, we got our news from a handful of sources: the daily newspaper, radio and the nightly news programs. There were no tweets in reaction to the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, to JFK's assassination or the escalation of Vietnam and Cambodia.

There were no DVRs, and if you missed seeing Richard Nixon appear on Laugh In -- well, you missed it. You could not run to your computer and find out what happened that day in the Watergate hearings or the Conspiracy 7 trial. If you missed Richard Nixon waving as he boarded Air Force One for one last time, you couldn't replay it.

Growing up in the '60s and '70s we not only knew what was going on, we cared. We were affected by the events of the day. We cared about the Civil Rights of 1964 and the war in Vietnam. Lots of us read Michael Harrington's The Other America and learned that poverty does exist even in the United States. Some of us joined Vista or Head Start or the Peace Corps. We demonstrated against Vietnam or boycotted grapes in support of Caesar Chavez.

We applauded the genius of American inventions -- everything from a video cassette, disposable lighter or Post-it note to an artificial heart.

We celebrated Roe v. Wade and saw Sandra Day O'Connor become the first woman on the Supreme Court.

We paid attention. And when we turned 21, we voted.

There are some who say the student involvement did contribute to the end of Vietnam, or helped pass civil rights legislation. And because of Kennedy and Johnson, there were advances in reducing poverty, helping the elderly and providing education for all.

It is ironic that today, when information is instantly available from many sources, few are outraged that political leaders can stand up and spew non-truths or spend precious air time before the American public ridiculing an invisible president in an empty chair.

We have an outrageously wealthy candidate who has his money stashed off shore and who spoke to America about his humble beginnings. And a vice-presidential candidate who blamed Obama for closing a GM plant in his hometown when in fact it was shut down before Obama every took office and for not getting behind Simpson-Bowles when in fact this candidate voted against it.

Maybe young people today are distracted by reality TV, celebrity news and an array of fun iPad apps. Millions would not think of missing the Kardashian wedding or Real Housewives of New York reunion. But there is an even bigger reality to get engaged in. It is happening right now this week and will continue every day until November 6. And unlike Snookie, the Kardashian sisters and the Real Housewives, this reality will affect all of us.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?