If you've been paying attention at all over the last few years, it would seem utterly incomprehensible that a plurality of Americans would even contemplate putting the Republicans back into power. But the key term in that sentence is "paying attention," which is quickly becoming our most dire national deficit.
With elections looming, and our nation once again on the verge of exercising our civic privileges and responsibilities, it occurs to me that few things are better suited to take advantage of an attention deficit than political advertisements. I've gotten to the point of treating political ads, especially those in favor of Richard Burr, like Viagra commercials. I pause the TiVo right before they start, go do something else for a few minutes and then fast-forward past them. He's for jobs. And freedom. I get the gist.
With the country mired in myriad complex problems, Republicans tout purported solutions. How do you propose to solve the vexing challenges of our time? "Freedom!" "Lower taxes!" "Liberty!" "Reduce spending!" "Freedom!"
Declaring that you are for "Freedom!" and "Liberty!" is about as philosophically illuminating as organizing political movements around "Ice cream!" "Apple pie!" and "Fuzzy kittens!"
My favorites are the candidates who get initially flustered, then brighten, in a lightbulb moment, and proceed to repeat the buzzwords, only MORE EARNESTLY! How do we create jobs, deal with trade imbalances and entire industries that have been decimated?
*looks into camera*
"FREEDOM!" And "LOWER TAAAXES!" (Said in an ALL-CAPS voice—I call that a Palindrone.) Unfetter the multinational corporations from any form of oversight, regulation or sense of responsibility. And once you set 'em free, if those jobs never come back, well, then, by golly, they were never yours to begin with!
Ron Johnson, a neophyte Republican Wisconsin senatorial candidate, was leading three-term Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in the polls. During a meeting between Johnson and the editorial board of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the board was astonished to find, after pressing him for details on policies, that he had none. In a videotaped encounter, Johnson merely repeated generalities about "reducing spending" and "cutting taxes." This led that conservative paper, which admittedly shared the same ideals of small government, reduced spending and tax cutting, to endorse Feingold for the first time.
"An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight." —Thomas Jefferson
If Jefferson is to be believed, the continued survival of democratic self-government is jeopardized by an unenlightened electorate. Looking at poll numbers in light of recent history, I can't help but believe that Americans would rather be told a simple lie than a complex truth.
In a society reflective of the Jeffersonian ideal, we would stay abreast of current events, informing ourselves from multiple information sources. We would take time to read detailed campaign information, educate ourselves about political candidates and test their assertions for veracity. We would pay far more attention to debates and longer interviews than we do to political ads and nightly news sound bites.
That's a heavy prescription. Perhaps, with a major emphasis on civics and critical thinking in schools, we could move the nation closer to meeting the minimum requirements for participatory democracy in a generation. The short-term prospects of such change, however, are daunting. It's hard enough to get the attention of a people so busy and so consumed with the trappings of consumer culture.
On top of that, though, we have active, organized and determined opposition to the very notion of a nation "by the people and for the people," in the "person" of the shadowy corporate donors granted anonymity by the Orwellian-named Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. These groups, flush with money from this country's ruling class, as well as that of foreign nations seeking to purchase a more perfect union, are working furiously to ensure that perniciously simple lies are being amplified and broadcast all across the country. How, then, do we counter the power of simple lies? Simple truths.
If you care about the future of democracy in this country, vote. And if you know anyone who is on the fence about voting, or unsure of which candidate to support, encourage them, with simple truths, to cast their ballot for the one with the most substance, as opposed to the one with the most face time.
Apart from that, the only solution I can see would be to make a rule requiring political ads to carry a disclaimer, just like all of those drug commercials: WARNING: Side effects may include social instability and inducement of voting against your economic interests. If symptoms persist, cease viewing.