My Dad and I have this ongoing debate about campaigns. It has been ongoing for four years that I can remember but perhaps longer. It revolves around the forthrightness of campaigns to speak to the electorate logically, with courage, and while keeping within the bounds of logic and reasonableness. Instead of what I desperately want campaigns to do they do the opposite, spiraling into ever more irrelevant crap. Gaffes and ah ha’s are fun and interesting political theater but that is all it is. Theater. Theater is a farce. And we must stop hiring representatives to govern us based on a farcical audition system. This I have felt deeply for a long time. It colors most of my political worldview, rightly or wrongly.
John Dickerson wrote a series of pieces this week that I hope with all the optimism my increasing cynicism can muster that someday it will be viewed as a transformative work. In his work he pleads with the electorate in a way I know he believes. I’ve spent an hour a week more or less for the past seven years and I believe that he believes every word he wrote. His authenticity is easy to trust and recognize with that much exposure. His argument is basically that we need to rethink about how we treat Presidential campaigns. We are covering the wrong things he says to the media elite. You are emphasizing the wrong things he says to the campaigns. We are rewarding the wrong behavior he tells the electorate. And all of them/us need to hear it because all have a roll in fixing it.
So what can we the electorate do? In my opinion it is our duty to educate ourselves about the issues, about what the President can actually control, and to take a decision based upon those items rather than the metrics of how many gaffes some poor guy or girl exposed to immense pressure takes.
An informed and reasonable electorate is the only way we can pull ourselves out of this death spiral of hyper partisanship, reactionary media coverage, and off the charts dissatisfaction. We the electorate have as much to do with this, perhaps more, than the candidates do. Political leaders aren’t really leaders at all. At least in a democracy they are supposed to represent their constituents’ interests. Vying too far outside of these, and the politician loses their representative title. We call those people here in Africa: Dictators. The simple fact is that a politician is constrained by public opinion. So an ill-informed electorate, purposefully or otherwise, will logically reward the loudest rather than the smartest. Here’s the rub. We get the country we demand folks. When we refuse to educate ourselves on what the President does when we don’t demand intellectual and reasoned debate rather than stupid gaffery we end up with….Fox News and MSNBC yelling past each other.
We are in a difficult situation. Right now. In the short term, I’m pessimistic, but in the long term I’m optimistic. I remain hopeful for two primary reasons.
First, the grip of push consumption models of information continues to wane and simultaneously individual trust is replacing brand trust within the media. The former matters because when one unplugs from cable and consumes media and information on a purely pull model one’s ability to consume and process that information substantially increases. When you are in the mood for bubble gum you aren’t receptive to political messaging. Subliminal and uninformed voters barely process TV adds anymore. We are numb to them. But when you are in the mood for political messaging, you are in much better frame of mind to process that information. This is augmented by – the latter – individual trust located within both of one’s social graphs and interest graphs. Both of these significantly increase the ease which one can enter into the information funnel at headlines and steadily work downward through the increasing complexity to extreme wonkland if interested merely by reading, thinking, and clicking. Twitter leads to articles lead to counter arguments lead to source data. While this information funnel needs some work, people like Ethan Zuckerman at the Berkman Center and other terribly smart guys are thinking deeply about how this can operate. It will get better. And we will get better at using it.
The second reason I resist encroaching cynicism is the rise of the Maker class. Art from Andy Warhol to the Breakfast Club to Rage Against the Machine has been warning us against getting too big and too homogeneous It won’t work the artists warned. And they led the world. Long before there was a consultant class there were independent artists. But now DIY is everywhere and not only because Home Depot wants to sell you some lumber. Big is out and small is in. And I for one am incredibly satisfied. Music, for me, has never been more diverse and more wonderful. Despite the RIAA apocolypsing, music is the best I have ever experienced. And I’ve been following music for a decent little while now. Food is similarly wonderful. Farm to table restaurants and good wines make the old suburban standbys just places you go by default when you’re not in the know or when you are resigned to mediocrity.
Small is in. Small is great. But small is messy. It refuses to be categorized as easily. It celebrates the individual, with its flaws and eccentricities, not in tension with the community (as the rhetoric from the right so often tries to frame it) but as part of it. Integral to the flow of the community. But this becomes problematic politically. Or so some argue. If we decentralize and fracture the currently coalitions underpinning the current form of the Republican and Democratic parties so wonder what will happen thereafter. Some wonder if we had more than two viable national parties whether people would be able to parse the differences. I have no idea whether that is true, but I know that music, which is much farther ahead of politics in this area, is better than it is ever been. This is why I remain (perhaps unreasonably) optimistic.
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