Friday, September 03, 2004

#30 - One of Those Cosmic Thoughts...

I like round numbers, and the fact that this is my thirtieth post just sounds nice. But since it is my thirtieth post (a sort of milestone for me, truth to tell), I just thought I would tell you I know how to fix our political system. Really.

From a personal perspective, I've been writing (mostly for myself) for most of my life. This idea of blogging (which seems somehow related to bragging) takes some getting used to. For the longest time I would do an annual birthday essay meant to show how I felt about turning whatever age I was hitting that year. Usually pretty upbeat, but it's also interesting to read them years later and see patterns in my life.

This deep kind of thinking - well, deep for me, anyway - can and often does lead to related issues that have nagged at me for years. Take the idea of blogging as an example. Everyone seems to agree that the blog has changed the face of modern politics. No agreement, of course, as to whether it's for the better or worse, but all agree it's changed.

The blog can take the form of a journal, reflecting the thoughts, ideas and wishes of the writer. Or, for the activists among us, the blog becomes the propoganda tool of choice. The instrument by which the writer wages his or her personal political crusade. Many bloggers see themselves as the "new media," the neo-information engine of the technology age. Their duty it is to supplant the obvious shortcomings of the mainstream media.

It's not enough.

As an electorate (warning: painting with VERY broad strokes here!), we fall far short of what the first American politicians saw as our sacred duty. John Adams wrote of mastering the "science of politics" so that his children would be free to study whatever they chose to improve themselves. Still, his fondest hope was that future generations of politicians would dedicate themselves to a noble study of politics so that future generations of voters would feel safe in being represented by such public servants.

Given the obvious lack of "noble politicians" in the last one hundred years, how can I then claim that we, the voters, fall short?

Because we've let them get away with it, that's how.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the sins of our fathers (down to whatever generation we need to impugn) created an atmosphere of political morass that each successive generation worsens. For more than one hundred years now we, as citizens, have abdicated more and more of our political accountability to those who claim to be the only ones who understand that accountability and are more than willing to take it off our hands.

The pace of life has quickened exponentially with each passing administration. The American public demands better, faster, cheaper. We want everthing on our plates cut up into bite sized chunks because we simply don't have the time to do the deep analysis ourselves. We have encouraged sound-bite electioneering. It's our own fault that we will not elect someone who does not look good (relatively speaking, of course) on television. This is why politicians are loathe to say anything of substance, because they know it's going to be broken down to the lowest form that will fit the media's space and time requirements anyway.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

If we accept that there is no deep idealism left in modern politics, than we must also accept that all modern politicians - yes, even George W. Bush for whom I will vote again this year - cannot act without a script. When they do, they lose elections.

The real test will come when the candidates meet for their debates. No matter what questions are ultimately asked, listen to (or, for that matter, read) the analyses that follow. The vast majority of them will attempt to grade the candidate on presentation, and use that grade to determine who the real winner may have been. So, rather than take their word for it, try something different. Completely ignoring the opposition, ask yourself these questions:

1. Did your candidate appear to give scripted answers to the questions?

2. Did those answers elicit from you a rational response, or was your response emotional?

3. Did you learn anything of substance relating to the issue being discussed?

4. Do you really think it's possible to learn everything there is to know about (pick: abortion, health care, undocumented workers, the war on terror, traditional marriage, aid for OB-GYNs, etc.) in a five minute response with follow-ups?

I don't for a moment believe that any candidate can be an all-inclusive expert on every issue facing the American population. That's why they have advisors. I have no problem with that. For that same reason, however, I believe it's completely pointless to put two such people on a dais and expect them to sound like experts on all issues during a scripted one hour "debate."

Want real discourse during an election? Change the federal campaigning laws to require that all announced candidates submit written essays no later than one year before the election of not less than 3000 words for each of twenty issues. The issues to be discussed will be selected in a national poll by the voters who will select them from a list, or be allowed to write in their priorities if necessary. The top twenty get discussed in the essays. If, at any point in the campaign, the candidate varies from his or her stated position, they must automatically withdraw from the campaign.

Even when we've winnowed the field down to two main candidates, voters must wade through over 120,000 words in order to decide for whom they will cast their precious vote in November. They'll have that candidate's (hopefully) substantive discussion on most of the issues, which can be enlarged upon in a real debate where one very important issue becomes the topic, and each candidate leads off with a thirty minute dissertation, followed by point-counterpoint follow-ups.

Once elected, the candidate can be easily adjudicated because his or her campaign ideas will already be published in written form. The only conflict remaining will be interpretations of those writings by the left or right, depending on who won.

While we're at it, I think a similar format should be imposed in the form of an exit interview for outgoing presidents. Let them account for their written pledges and how well they executed their plans while in office.

Now, before I get nasty letters or comments from those who disagree with this idea, let me just say that I already know it wouldn't work. Here are the reasons:

1. The voters' patience would never support it.
2. The politicians would never agree to it, especially those who would have to change those campaign laws.
3. ACLU attorneys would just love to point out how many disadvantaged voters would never be able to read all that discussion, mostly because they are forced to attend inner-city public schools. Poor disenfranchised things.
4. The mainstream media (and many new media) powers that be will never sell it.

So, I guess my revolution lives and dies with this post.

But I can dream.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! And this was well said!


Cameron said...

We're of almost like minds here. I'd kill (um, figuratively) to see an old fashioned debate a'la Lincoln and Whatshisface, who went at for hours at time over several nights.

Hell - I'd take vacation time off for it. One thing is certain; we'd attract an entirely different animal for the office.