December 6, 2023

We don’t know the candidates



Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

We don’t know the candidates

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – There are lots of things we don’t yet know about the upcoming election, like what the turnout will be and whether the Republicans will win control of the Senate. One thing we do know is that enormous amounts of money are being spent and that this election like the last, and like the next, will set a new record.

Some people think that’s just dandy, they tend to be the ones who benefit most from the current system. Bring it on, they say. There’s so much money that another 10 million here or there wouldn’t change a thing. The Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision in 2010 equating money with free speech opened the floodgates, and now there’s so much money that it has hit critical mass.

Advocates for this financial free-for-all cite as evidence that our democracy is strong, and that money can’t buy elections as proven by the fact that political strategist Karl Rove funneled millions into Republican campaigns in 2012 and came up empty-handed. All that cash didn’t translate into winning elections.

Another case in point that money only goes so far is Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, who lost his seat in a Republican primary to a little known and underfunded opponent. Cantor’s ample war chest didn’t save him from defeat.

These arguments have validity in the sense that money can’t always buy victory in Congress or in local races around the country. But do we really need to pour these many millions into political races? It would be one thing if the purveyors of all this money were educating the voters and legitimately debating the issues. But that’s not what’s happening.

If you live in an area that has a hotly contested race, you’ve probably turned off your television by now. The barrage of negative ads has left you feeling alienated from the political process; you’re sick of all the negativity, and you’re not even sure you’re going to vote.

The ads are relentless, and very few of them say anything positive. If you dropped in from another planet, you’d think we have nothing but lying low-life’s running for office. Heck, you don’t have to come from elsewhere in the galaxy to think that. Just watch a few of these ads, and you’ll be eager to tune out and get back to football or “The Good Wife.”

The excessive amounts of money spent by the right and the left to destroy the political opposition demean our democracy. Sure, some of the ads are clever. Iowa Republican Joni Ernst’s most recent ad portraying her in a pig pen and promising to clean up Washington just like she cleans the pens on her family farm is a winner, and well within bounds.

But that’s not true elsewhere. In Virginia, where Democrat Mark Warner is well ahead of Republican challenger Ed Gillespie, the campaign advertising is so over-the-top negative that it’s a turn-off for all but the most partisan voters. That’s where tribal impulses come into play. If you’re a Democrat, you vote for Warner; if you’re a Republican, you support Gillespie; if you’re neither, you might be inclined to sit out an election where both candidates are portrayed in such a poor light.

Ah, but negative ads work, you say, that’s why they’re deployed in our partisan wars. They work because of the growing disconnect between the electorate and the elected. Voters don’t know their elected representatives well enough to judge their character and their record, and they rely on the messages that come through the media. When a campaign message, or paid TV ad, hits a nerve, it can mean the difference between winning and losing. Whipsawed by the system, the American people too often turn away from politics when their participation is most needed.

One idea we have advanced is to have every 10,000 people elect a delegate, who in turn would cast votes for all offices, federal, state, and local. The thought is that these delegates would be known to the people who elect them, and they, in turn, could get to know the candidates on the ballot, from senators to mayors. This is actually what the Founding Fathers had in mind with the House of Representatives. Most people knew the candidates, and knowing the candidates is the best way to choose winners.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.




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