I am, of course – as everyone knows me would know – delighted by the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I am also hopeful that he will lead us in positive directions. But I must say, perhaps in the way of a mini-catharsis, that the election itself was an extraordinarily depressing spectacle, carnival, farce, or, perhaps, simply yet another manifestation of low expectations.
The level of Republican political discourse was pathetic, and the level of innuendo, racism, anti-intellectualism, and outright sleaze and smear was rampant. It was, in short, embarrassing and even humiliating. The appeals to the lowest common denominators were at a new high – to offer a deliberately mixed equation. Why Joe the Plumber was somehow a yardstick, why mangling the English language was supposed to be winky-cute, and why a party with respectable intellectual traditions allowed itself to be so thoroughly degraded and diminished was hard to understand.
Admittedly, the Republican Party had some problems: how to run a campaign as the Republican Party while repudiating the last eight years of Republican executive rule. How to run as Republicans with a sitting President holding down the lowest approval rating in recent times. How to run for President, while never, never appearing with the current President or never even allowing the current President to campaign. At times, Senator McCain acted as if he were a Democrat or Independent attacking President Bush.
So given these impediments, the McCain folks decided, apparently, to ignore the last eight years and instead to run a smear campaign against the Democratic candidate. The tactics ranged from veiled racism to anti-Muslim slants to guilt by association – Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers – to blatant name-calling: socialist, Marxist, communist, terrorist, tax-and-spend-liberal.
All the above were put into play – some over and over, ad nauseum. Forget for a moment that it ultimately didn’t work – (or did it?). Forget that, and note simply what a dismal spectacle it was to see crowds of people being whipped up into mindless displays of emotion. Liberal bashing is common enough, but this campaign went beyond that. It was simply a cynical attempt to evade the consequences of a bankrupt ideology by manipulating frustrated voters by giving them a bogus target for their frustrations. Calling Barack Obama a socialist a week after the federal government’s bailout of Wall Street was particularly bizarre.
However, the losers in this campaign were not just the Republicans; we all lose when Americans are divided by meaningless issues, especially when there are so many critical issues facing all of us. Dumbing down campaigns in order to win drags everyone down. Focus gets blurred, and issues such as saving the planet, preventing nuclear (not ‘nuk-yu-ler’) proliferation, adequately educating all children, eliminating poverty, and so on are ignored.
Republicans and Democrats alike need to attend to campaign reform. For openers, here are five suggestions:
1. Limit campaigns to three months.
2. Fund campaigns with public funds.
3. Free TV access for candidates.
4. Mandatory voting – required of all citizens.
5. Eliminate advertising – candidates present their views in interviews and debates.
Let’s stop the dumbing down and seek to restore some intellectual integrity to our elections.