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I Disapprove This Message

Posted Wednesday, November 5, 2008, at 11:15 AM

It has become very clear to me that the one great danger to our democratic form of government is the actual practice of it.

We've all seen those weepy first-time voters on TV who escaped from repressive regimes to become American citizens. They admonish us to cherish our right to vote. I certainly see their point. But really: Who in his or her heart, no matter how brightly the love of Freedom burns there, does not feel at least a tiny flicker of sympathy for the idea of a tyrannical dictatorship when reminded that their election campaigns, while perhaps mere cruel pantomimes of free choice, are at least typically very short?

If it is true that television is the main source of information about candidates for most voters, then even the concept of "lesser of two evils" has ceased to mean much of anything. For instance, in one race this year, according to the commercials, my choice was between a drooling serial sexual harrasser whose campaign was funded by murderers and a woman who sat in the legislature with her head spinning round and round on her shoulders as she cast vote after vote against jobs and in favor of infant mortality. This seemed to me to be in the nature of a toss-up.

I can't really blame them, I guess. For instance, one handy aspect of the cloud of attack advertising is that it masks real, legitimate criticism. Let's say my opponent accuses me of embezzling public funds. And I do in fact embezzle public funds on a regular basis. (It isn't my fault. I have to do it to pay off various bookies and drug dealers.) Now I accuse my opponent of wishing to legalize infanticide. Voila! I can now equate the two accusations, then sadly shake my head and decry the "negativity" that has arisen in the campaign.

Not to say it is all negative. There was a positive message in most West Tennessee political advertising. For instance, every candidate positively affirmed his or her resolve to strongly resist any effort to take away my guns. This stand is particularly brave, knowing as we do the large segment of the Tennessee State Legislature clamoring daily for a broad ban on firearms ownership. In addition, it was also reassuring to be promised by a candidate that, if elected, on his watch I would never be forced to have an abortion. I think he was running for alternate alderman in Skullbone.

But the the problem is that all this cynical packaging, mindless attacking, specious grandstanding and cheerful baldfaced lying has actual consequences. The politicians and their packagers don't see beyond election day, of course. Either their strategies worked ("We won!") or they didn't ("Voter fraud!"). The danger, though, is that at the end of it all there will be two kinds of people left in the rubble of the electorate. One kind of person may be left so sick of the lies and cynicism that he tends to have contempt for the entire process. The other kind of person is one who, generally due to existing prejudices, actually believed all the lies he was told about one candidate or another. Each of these types of people, for their own reasons, now feels that the duly constituted government is illegitimate on some level, either because of ethical bankruptcy or because of immorality, sympathy for terrorists, cannibalism or whatever other nonsense the losing side splattered their opponent with on the way down.

I don't profess to have any brilliant ideas for remedying this situation. I am left with the old cliché that our system is the worst there is, except for all the others. All I would suggest is the advice that I think works well both in and out of elections: The time to be most skeptical is when someone is telling you what you want to hear.

But anyway, it's all over now, at least for a while. And luckily we Americans have a pretty short memory for these kind of things anyway. Even the most outrageous stuff fades away. Like for instance, remember that time that goofy woman from Canada ran for Vice President? Sharon something. I think she used to be on Saturday Night Live.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

S. L. Clemens would be proud of you............

-- Posted by Johnny Yuma on Wed, Nov 5, 2008, at 5:07 PM

I don't normally comment on things I agree with, but you sir did a great job on this piece.

-- Posted by jonboon on Thu, Nov 6, 2008, at 5:02 AM

That was as excellent and well written a peice as I have ever read. Thank you.

-- Posted by theartfuldodger on Wed, Dec 3, 2008, at 3:18 PM

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