I’m missing the good old days of political discourse. Perhaps I’d better get used to it.
I often consider how unique it would be to have lived in a different time and witnessed a variety of historic events. One of those preferred eras for me would have been during the founding of our nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Despite a periodic showdown and gunfight in the street, I’m quite certain our forefathers would neither condone nor tolerate the inappropriateness and pure and unfounded trash talk of today’s candidates and particularly the Democrat and Republican parties and their action committees.
I don’t know about you, but I celebrate the day after the election, as it brings to an end the most inappropriate TV commercials forced upon our commonwealth. Despite having perhaps a better than normal perspective on the candidates and issues on the ballot, I still find myself disrespecting most, if not all, of the candidates by the end of each election.
Maybe I’m kidding myself, but it doesn’t seem like things were quite this nasty when I was young. Oh, I know all about “Daisy,” the ad painting Barry Goldwater as a trigger-happy warrior who would bring on World War III. Not because I remember seeing the image of that little girl and the mushroom cloud—heck, I was only 5 in 1964–—but because it’s often used as a benchmark for over-the-top political advertising in the modern era.
And if you go back into the 19th century and the time of Thomas Nast cartoons, politicians were pulling no punches then, either. Same with the newspapers in that time of unbridled partisanship.
Perhaps what has really changed is the media saturation. Starting in the early Fall every couple of years, you simply can’t get away from the ads from either party, especially on the broadcast channels. Fine by the TV guys, I guess, who stand to pad their bottom line during that stretch, the way retailers meet their annual sales goals during the holiday shopping season. That’s bled over to the Internet, where you can’t follow college football or find a dinner recipe without being assaulted by negative advertising.
It’s incumbent upon all of us who fill out those ballots to arrive at the polls armed with some basic understanding of what the candidates stand for.
What Works, Good or Bad
Of course, the political consultants tell us, they wouldn’t go so negative and throw so much mud if it weren’t effective. I have my doubts about whether the electorate is that malleable in this day and age. The market is so fragmented out there, with so many media channels, it’s hard for me to believe those ad dollars are moving the needle the way they used to.
More likely, what’s at work here is the self-sorting of information that’s available to people. Remember the first time you sat down at a computer and started cruising the Internet? How amazing it was that so much information could be at your fingertips? Vacation hints, sports coverage, school schedules,
shopping venues and so much more. Then you realized, “I don’t have 12 hours a day to be surfing the ‘net!”
That’s when the newspaper industry and traditional broadcast news networks fell into readership/viewership decline, and over the past few years they too often have blurred the line between reporting of fact and stating of opinion.
So what have a lot of otherwise intelligent people done in the quest for information? They’ve identified Web sites that too often fail to challenge their own thinking, creating a confirmation bias loop that reinforces this message that our side is good, and the other side is evil.
That may be overstating things a bit, but as a guy who plays in the mass communications sandbox, that’s what I perceive from all of this change in the way information is delivered and absorbed.
Of course, it’s incumbent upon all of us who fill out those ballots to arrive at the polls armed with some basic understanding of what the candidates stand for. I hope I’m not becoming jaded when I say I have doubts about the ability of many of today’s voters to meet that standard.