I just have to rant a little about politics.
It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that if what you are doing isn’t working anymore, you need to make a change.
That’s true in business — if your product isn’t selling, you need consider a different way of marketing it. That’s true in sports — if your team isn’t winning, you need to consider hiring new personnel or adjusting your style of play. That is true in media — if nobody is reading the print edition of your newspaper anymore, you need to consider putting more content online. That is true in life — and there are countless examples you could apply.
Why doesn’t that concept apply to politics?
For years, candidates have been running campaigns that don’t reflect the will of the voters. The voters ask for a discussion of the issues, the candidates respond with soundbites and rhetoric. The voters want to understand the candidates’ records, and the campaigns respond by distoring their opponent’s positions and smearing their character. The campaigns keep doing the same thing, over and over. How do the voters respond? They tune out — only a fraction of eligible voters show up at the polls, while nearly everyone who is asked expresses frustration, if not distaste, for the state of politics.
This cycle was supposed to be different. Barack Obama and John McCain both ran against politics-as-usual. They vowed to wage a campaign that focused on issues and avoided negative attacks. They even flirted with the idea of holding town hall meetings, barnstorming the country and listening to voters concerns together.
Then the gloves came off.
Last night, in the second of three Presidential debates, John McCain and Barack Obama went on the attack. I don’t think either candidate gave an answer (and I use the term ‘answer’ loosely because very few of the statements the candidates made actually responded to the questions that there posed) that didn’t include a reference to the other guy. They barely made eye contact the whole night. And in TV and web ads, stump speeches and interviews that follow the debate, and consume our attention for the next 29 days, we’ll see more of the same.
That’s not what voters want. There are important matters facing our country — the economy, the war, healthcare, and education to name a few — that deserve real debate. We want to pick a President who we feel confident understands, and has a plan for addressing these critical issues. But how are we to decide which candidate is best when neither one seems interested (or capable) of putting forward their own views, choosing instead to undermine the credibility and character of their opponent.
Politics is broken. What the candidates and campaigns are doing simply isn’t working any more. Something needs to change. Its not likely to happen this cycle, and there is little prospect that politics will improve in the near future. But that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve, and shouldn’t demand better.