Polemicscat's Weblog

Examining settled and unsettling questions.

Tabloids and Campaign Reform

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Standing in  the checkout line at grocery stores,  I often get a laugh as I read the tabloid headlines.  Almost any outrageous claim can be found there.  I remember from years ago headlines like “Ninety-year-old Woman Has Triplets,” and “President Clinton Confers with Extraterrestrials.”  And the story about Clinton included “photographs” to prove it.

I started thinking about the people who buy these papers. No one that I know has ever admitted buying one.  And I have never seen anyone carrying a tabloid out of the store.  But somebody must be buying them; otherwise the publishers would go broke.  I wonder whether tabloid readers are the same people who watch wrestling on television and think it is really an athletic contest. 

I was thinking about this and about people who buy tabloids, and I suddenly stopped laughing.  It dawned on me that every person who believes the stuff printed in the tabloids has a vote equal to that of the most informed citizen.  It was a sobering thought. 

Yet, I often hear commentators and politicians lamenting the fact that, typically, fewer than sixty percent of the eligible voters actually vote in American elections. What is the common denominator between people who don’t vote.  Maybe those who measure reality by tabloid standards are the non-voters.  Let’s hope so.

Considering the potential of the Tabloid Block to skew the outcome of elections, why is there such a big push every election year to “get out the vote”?   It seems to me that easy registration and easy voting are bad signs in a democracy.  I figure anybody who forgets to register or to vote probably doesn’t remember the issues or the candidates’ names either.  

Maybe that’s why we have to have such long and expensive campaigns before elections.  It now takes a year and a half for presidential candidates to establish name recognition.  Probably the reason that incumbents have an advantage over the other candidates is that they have been in the news for four or more years, and the voters have finally remembered their names.  That would explain why incumbents are almost automatically re-elected and why some people have wanted to limit the terms of office holders.

But that’s just one of the problems with elections these days.  Another one is that the costs of campaigning have become absurdly high.  If the trend continues, soon only the very rich– or those who have been bought by special interest groups–will stand any chance of being elected to Federal offices.  

Here are a few modest proposals that might make elections less expensive for the candidates and a little less wearisome to people who think they have a civic duty to pay attention to campaigns.  

    1. Limit the campaign season for elections to six months. Long campaigns are relics from horse-and-buggy days. With today’s advanced communication, long campaigns are unnecessary.

    2. At the beginning of the campaign season, require each candidate to publish a position paper that sets forth the candidate’s views on the twenty most important issues and the candidate’s proposals for solving associated problems.  These position papers would allow voters to make more intelligent decisions on election day and would serve as records of campaign promises.

    3. Hold all primaries throughout the country on the same day, three months before election day. Party conventions could be held between primary day and election day. 

    4. For the privilege of being licensed to operate, television stations and networks should be required to give a limited and equal number of hours of air time to each major party’s nominee for a Federal office.

It might be that such measures would not only reduce the costs of conducting a campaign for candidates, but would also give voters easier access to solid information about candidates’ ideas for conducting the people’s business.

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Written by polemicscat

June 18, 2008 at 8:10 pm

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