Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Did Politics Get So F*cked Up?



I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a high profile politician at an intimate gathering in a neighbor’s home. Out of respect for the organizer I will not refer to the politician by name. The purpose of the get together was to have an intelligent political conversation over wine and appetizers. The crowd was largely (okay entirely with the exception of one person - my wife) Republican so the political conversation I expected turned out to be more of a gratuitous ass-kissing session than anything else. It quickly became apparent that said politician is a very intelligent person. It also became apparent that they’re completely in love with the sound of their own voice. A wise person once told me “never assume you’re the smartest person in the room” - advice this politician has clearly never heard or chooses to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, they said all the right things. They acknowledged that America is in serious trouble and that it will take sacrifices from everyone to get us back on track. They stressed the importance of job creation, of education, and of building a new generation of independent citizens who don’t rely so heavily upon the government. I couldn’t agree more on all fronts. They also spoke of their public feud with Nancy Pelosi, which I appreciated considering how much I detest Nancy Pelosi and everything she stands for. When I finally got the chance to speak with this politician one on one and ask them a real political question however (as opposed to the grapefruits the rest of the crowd was lobbing over the plate), I was very disappointed in their response. They literally looked right through me, gave a generic and equally ambiguous answer, then abruptly walked away to talk with someone else. My question was about the Tea Party and the negative shadow it’s casting on the Republican Party as a whole, but that’s not even the important part. Their terse, uninspired response wasn’t the important part either. What really struck me more than anything else was how easily they passed me off. I’m not sure if it was my age (I was one of just a handful of Gen X'ers in the crowd) or because they weren’t interested in having a serious political conversation with a political nobody, but it was evident they couldn’t get away from me fast enough. The gathering ended with a calculated dissertation on how they planned to make America great again insinuating a presidential run in 2012, assuming they could garner enough support from the very crowd they pandered to, which of course prompted another round of shameless ass-kissing. But back to my point – when I interacted with this politician it was like I wasn’t even there. Which is a great illustration of why I’ve grown so damn apathetic towards politicians and politics as a whole.

I’m only picking on this particular politician because they are after all the inspiration for this post, but they’re really no different than any other politician out there. Bottom line people will say whatever it takes to get elected and once elected will rarely deliver on the promises they made to the voting public during their campaigns. The promises they made to the special interest groups who funded their campaigns are a different story however. The latter promises are the ones made behind closed doors that you and I never hear about, and the ones that will always take precedent over the former. Therefore under the current system we have absolutely no way of knowing when a politician is being sincere and when a politician is completely full of shit. As proven by my experience at my neighbor’s gathering politicians don’t really want to get to know the people they “serve”, so how are we ever supposed to get to know them?

Smart guys and gals in expensive suits speaking in metaphors and ideologies extrapolated from the empirical data gathered by their entourage of political researchers and staffers. What’s the one thing they all have in common? Is it their love for America and its fine citizens, for the beliefs and traditions that this great nation were built upon? Yeah, right. Try an unflappable love for themselves, their careers, and above all else a paramount need to be the center of attention. I’m sure there are one or two honest politicians left in Washington who are there to serve the people, but the rest of those philandering narcissists are in it for one reason and one reason only, to serve themselves. Everyone’s heard the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and this statement couldn’t be more true than in politics. Take Rod Blagojevich for example. As the Governor of Illinois he tried to “sell” Obama’s vacated senate seat to the highest bidder and got caught red-handed doing it. We only found out about this incident because one of his aides was a snitch. Just think about all the shady political deals taking place every day that the public never hears about. If Nancy Pelosi was able to fund a private jet using public money who knows what other shenanigans she’s been up to over the last thirty years of her political career? Our nation continues to fall further into debt (13 trillion at the moment and growing) yet politicians continue to abuse the system for their own personal gain. And the experts wonder why voter turnout continues to shrink every year.

How about the political debates set up by the “unbiased” media to help voters figure out where the candidates stand on the issues? Please, what the hell are we supposed to learn from canned questions from high profile mediators that the candidates have already memorized responses to? The content in those debates is about as genuine as the shit eating grin on any politicians face when shaking hands with a potential voter.

And don’t even get me started on negative campaigning. With all the mud throwing and finger pointing taking place these days it’s hard to know where a candidate even stands on the simplest of issues. I liken it to a fat guy pointing out how ugly his opponent is to detract from the fact that he’s a disgusting lard ball. So then all we’ve learned at the end of the campaign is that one of the candidates is ugly while the other is fat. How’s that going to help us figure out who to vote for?
I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer consider myself a Republican or a Democrat. I simply consider myself a person who’s fed up with all the bullshit. Clearly the system is broken and until it’s fixed I for one will continue to practice political abstinence (or at least I’ll be sure to wear a condom when I vote).

To summarize my rant I see the following problems with politics today (among other things):

1) Current campaign financing laws allow special interest groups to buy a candidate’s allegiance.

2) Voters have no way to ascertain a candidate’s true character because under the current system candidates and their respective parties are able to manipulate public perception by picking and choosing what gets filtered through the media and how it’s delivered.

3) Too much media exposure has resulted in high profile politicians behaving like over-indulged celebrities.

4) A lack of checks and balances has allowed elected officials to abuse their office for personal gain.

5) Negative campaigning confuses voters (at least those who lack the intelligence to see through it which is, let’s face it, most of America) and blurs where candidates stand on the issues.

The solution? I certainly don’t have all the answers and the ideas I’m about to propose probably aren’t even feasible for a number of reasons. That being said the best beginning to any solution is acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place, so here’s a first pass at some pragmatic solutions to cut through the crap:

1) Eliminate campaigning altogether. No campaign financing = no allegiance to the special interest groups. Go old school – have candidates write a college admissions style paper describing themselves, their beliefs, their philosophies, their hopes and dreams, and why they got into politics in the first place. Publish them on the web for all to see. Then have various town hall meetings across the country where actual voters ask unscripted questions and the candidates must respond on their feet. Outside of these activities outlaw any form of campaigning through the media across the board (no commercials, no radio spots, no social networking, etc.). If a candidate wants to go door to door to shake hands and spread their message more power to em. In order to eliminate an unfair advantage for wealthy candidates (a la Meg Whitman) make it illegal to spend any personal funds on campaigning as well (no paid staffers to go door to door for you, no billboard messages, no bumper stickers, no printed lawn signs, etc.). I know I’m over simplifying here but it seems like an easy solution to cut out tons of bullshit (negative campaigning) and wasteful spending. And perhaps the hundreds of millions of dollars saved in campaign financing could be used to help stimulate our feeble economy (two birds, one stone).

2) Cut down on media exposure for all elected officials. Granted, the president will still have to make TV appearances but eliminate media coverage for every other elected office on a national, state, and local level. If they’re not on TV they won’t feel like movies stars and then perhaps they’ll stop behaving that way. Plus when you take fame off the table you’ll probably start to weed out a majority of the candidates who get into politics for all the wrong reasons in the first place. And a side benefit - without public exposure for politicians guys like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and James Carville will have no reason to pollute the airwaves.

3) Establish a better system of checks and balances to prevent politicians from abusing their office for personal gain. Create ultimate transparency by publishing every decision an elected official makes on the web for all to see. If they can’t defend or stand behind each of their actions they clearly won’t be comfortable having them published on the web, and they will have no choice but to do the right thing and act in the best interests of the public. Otherwise they’ll be exposed on the spot and forced to resign (without the time and expense involved in an investigation or trial).

Politicians would have us believe that the issues and problems they face on a daily basis are complex and unwieldy. Perhaps if we address the fundamental problems that exist within the current political process with extremely simple solutions then the so-called complexity would go away. Something to think about on Election Day.

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