Several election cycles ago, I wrote an essay proposing that instead of having a presidential election, we should hold a presidential draft or lottery. Anyone who actually wanted to run for president would be automatically disqualified, and the presumption was that we might do at least as well, probably better, by leaving the whole thing to chance. Admittedly, I was being sarcastic, but as the election years roll around time after time, the idea is regaining a certain appeal. Anything to offer an alternative to our quadrennial elections and their endless campaigning— for every state and national office you can imagine.
It has started already. The next presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday, November 8, 2016, two and a half years from now. Chris Christy has had a setback or two in New Jersey. No need to explain what’s been going on there. Closer to home in Iowa, Senate candidate Bruce Braley was recorded throwing a withering insult at Senator Chuck Grassley by calling him a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” Someone later added, “Why not call him what he really is, a career politician?” These days, that seems fair, if not complimentary. Any day now, someone is going to ask Ted Cruz what country he was born in.
This all comes two and a half years before the actual election. How sick of it will we be a year from now? And how will we survive to vote intelligently when the time comes? I want to suggest what may sound like an irresponsible, pea-brained idea. The best thing we can do to prepare for election day is to ignore television advertising, ignore television news, and think about ignoring the newspapers. In fact, ignore all the daily popular media available.
Why? First, most televised advertising can be boiled down to one of two approaches. Either “the other guy is a dishonest deviate,” or “If elected, I will, somehow, stop all the horrible things he plans to do.” Well, maybe once in a while, they’ll throw in a quotation taken completely out of context and turn it into an outright lie. And now, since the Supreme Court has made it possible for obscenely rich individuals to buy congressmen, governors, senators, even their very own president of the United States with unlimited funds, you can assume that the usual deluge of dirty advertising is going to get worse this time around. Republican or Democrat, you are going to be exposed to it, and most of it will be attack advertising with almost no basis in truth. And to make it worse, your candidate will be doing it too. So, the best you can do is ignore as much as possible. There’s no way it can turn you into an informed voter.
Second, television news is not designed to inform. It is not significantly different from comedy shows, drama, game shows, reality shows, or any other offerings. Television stations are owned by large corporations whose purpose is to make money. Television news is not intended to make you a better voter. It’s intended to make money for those owners. It’s why the reporters stand out in the rain waving at some neighborhood where a murder took place. It’s why they tell you to stay tuned for some exciting announcement about how the latest tornado blew away twenty-seven houses. It’s why they show the same explosion over and over and over. Television news is intended to arrest your attention so that you can be delivered to the advertisers. Why do they always lead with the most shocking and unusual story available? They need to deliver you to those advertisers, and the most efficient method is to attract you to their product— current events presented in the most entertaining way possible.
So, what can you do? Actually, it’s not that hard.
1. Read about the candidate’s job history. What kind of relevant experience does he or she have? How did these job experiences prepare the candidate?
2. Read about the candidate’s accomplishments, if any. What has this person been doing to prepare for himself or herself to be our representative. Does the candidate have a history of service? While it pains me to recommend Wikipedia as a place to begin your research, it does have the advantage of giving you a broad range of factual background information about the candidate, policy positions, and voting history. Check the history of all candidates and their voting records. And if something raises questions, check with another source too.
3. If the candidate has written anything, read it. Get an idea of this person’s attitudes, goals, life and career. What kind of human being are we looking at? Is this person intelligent enough to organize thoughts and express them clearly without attacking someone else? If not, do you really want to trust your future to this candidate?
And finally, draw your own conclusions after your own research. Don’t let the advertisements confuse you. Don’t judge by an opponent’s accusations. Don’t judge by televised press conferences. They are not intended to make you smart.
Prepare for election day, of course, but if you hope to vote intelligently, do it on a no popular media diet.