Would someone please remind me when the next presidential election will
be held? I sure don't want to miss it. A genie even told me it's not
until November 2008. Can it be that far off? Could have fooled me.
Judging by the intensity of the coverage and the overheated debate in
the blogs and among advocacy groups you would think that we were going
to the polls tomorrow. There's a presidential candidate spieling
everywhere you turn. What's worst, there's an endless telethon of pundit
speculation on the basis of the thinnest polls and wonkiest projections.
Why is this happening? Is there really nothing else to report on? Has
the glare of constant media attention become such an irresistible
obsession for pols? Is the excitement of running for office so powerful
in its gravitational pull on politicians that they have nothing better
to do? Does our media have to manufacture excitement so much that it
relies on constant coverage of what was once called the "permanent
campaign" to lure audiences?
Has what TIME magazine once called "ELECTOTAINMENT" become a permanent
feature of our TV diets only to be interrupted by even more empty-minded
Already the public, outside of a primary states like Iowa and New
Hampshire where candidate events are a stable of recreational interest
and free food, is getting weary of all the political noise all the time.
It is as if real life is finally catching up with an imagined satirical
poll that appeared in l998 in the ONION with the headline: "73 percent
of Americans Unable To Believe This Shit."
Electoral overkill is producing a tune out among voters even as it seems
to be exciting the "base," which seems to be on uppers while the rest of
the country is clearly on downers.
The whole election machine is stuck on fast forward -- which is good news
for the professional political class because of all the jobs it creates
for consultants, pollsters political ad firms, and armies of media
specialists. Raising money and getting on the air is their focus. Of
course the more we see them the less we see about what's happening in
Afghanistan and Iraq, or even to our own economy.
The news value of all this is pretty empty but it's easy to cover
because so many reporters have done it for so long. Once it was the
"boys on the bus," now it's the "prettiest hair on the air" anchors
being given a chance to get out from behind their sets to cover "real
events," even though they are so obviously manufactured.
Is this what our democracy has come to? It is NOT the carnival of free
choice it appears to be. We know that behind the scenes the money men
are calling the shots, as the invaluable Amy Goodman reported on a show
that might be rebranded "Democracy When?"
"The race for the 2008 election is on, and all we hear about is the race
for the money. Presidential hopefuls are vying with each other to raise
tens of millions of dollars for what is projected to be the most
expensive election in history. But hardly anyone is talking about where
this money comes from or where it ends up. Fewer still have asked
persistent questions about corporate America's grip over not just the
elections, but most policy decisions out of Washington, DC."
Agreed, but maybe, just maybe, the coverage is there to overload us
deliberately with so many images and so much trivia that we never learn
to ask the really important questions.
Just read this report on mostly "meaningless campaigning" in the San
Jose Mercury News, it makes you wanna weep, if not throw up. Mike Murphy
and Mark Mellman nail it:
"In the first 100 days of 2007, the big field of Republican and
Democratic candidates running for president collectively spent more than
$50 million campaigning, made hundreds of stump speeches in Iowa and New
Hampshire and endured several nationally televised debates. Too bad so
much of it will prove meaningless.
Don't get us wrong -- an awful gaffe at this stage could be deadly, and
there's no question that early money is crucial. But let's be honest.
The absurdly early start of this primary season has a lot more to do
with entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual
It is reminiscent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle we all heard
about in high school physics class. Professor Werner Heisenberg
postulated that 'the more precisely the position is determined, the less
precisely the momentum is known.' Applied to the presidential race, this
suggests that the more we measure how the candidates stand now, the less
we may know about where things are going to end up -- because the
measurement itself can render the findings inaccurate."
Run that by be again -- this mainstream newspaper in Silicon Valley is sort
of agreeing with the shit detectors over at the Onion but with many more
words, especially these: "This primary season has a lot more to do with
entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual primary
voters." This sentence is so insightful it deserves repetition.
You can call this a massive case of goal displacement because the
alleged goal of our media to strengthen democracy by informing us has
given way to its actual role of deceiving us by treating the
Merry-Go-Round as if it is important.
The NY Times reports that many Americans are "disgusted" -- their word, not
mine -- with the early start of the 2008 campaign. Veteran political
reporter Gabe Pressman blames the press for this -- if anyone should know,
"The truth is we journalists have created this monster. I attribute it
to a shortage of old-fashioned journalistic smarts and just plain
laziness. It's far easier to cover the politics of 2008 as a horse race
than as something infinitely more serious. Publishing the latest public
opinion polls on a weekly basis is easy. So is publishing or
broadcasting the latest fund-raising totals.
Sadly, we -- the army of journalists throughout this country -- have
prodded the candidates to raise heaps of money but not give us clear
choices on issues that matter. And the campaign has descended at times
into just 'blah, blah, blah.' One Pennsylvania woman said: "It's too
much for too long. You get tired of it."
In fact, all this "coverage" is bogus in another way, because most
American know better than to pay it too much mind. As the men from the
Mercury point out:
"More than two-thirds of the Democrats who voted in the 2004 Iowa
caucuses didn't decide who to vote for until a month before the
caucuses. Four in 10 decided in the last week. In 2004, 54 percent of
New Hampshire Democrats decided within a week of the primary. It's no
surprise, then, that in the 2004 election, John Kerry was lagging in
third place until only a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Kerry then
more than doubled his vote in Iowa and nearly quadrupled it in New
Hampshire -- all in less than 20 days."
Now that we know this, will it make any difference? Not to many of the
masters of the media -- and for one good reason. There is money to be made
on political commercials on TV. Broadcasting & Cable reports that TV ad
men are salivating at the prospect of Mike Bloomberg entering the race
with over a billion to spend.
Now you can understand why the coverage of political conventions has
been cut way back. Sound bites seem to sell better than substance. Ten
years ago, the Onion "reported" that the "National Shit Credulity Index
(NSCI) has hit an all time low with only two percent believing this sh-t
at all." I wonder what the Index says today.