This is the third draft in three days of this blog post. I have been trying to write a post that truly reflects my attitudes and opinions, but most of all my concerns, since the GOP debate this past Wednesday evening. There is something about this process, as it has evolved over the past few cycles, that has become very troubling to me. However, I have been really challenged to put my finger on it what it is that I find so troubling. Why it is that I find the current process of selecting a presidential nominee, and ultimately a president, so wrong. Theoretically it is an incredibly democratic procedure. All who are registered to vote may participate in their state’s primary or caucus. During the months preceding the ultimate selection these potential voters have the opportunity to attend a stump speech, a town hall meeting, read and hear about the candidates on the news and see them in televised debates. By the time the process comes to its ultimate conclusion all voters have reached their saturation point of exposure to the candidates. On the face of it, all seems perfectly democratic. Yet, is it all as pure as it seems? Now I’m as aware as you of the long history of power-brokered elections in this country. But laws and systems have been put in place to minimize such opportunities. No, what I’m talking about provides the illusion of a truly democratic process while openly allowing seemingly appropriate and legal activities to subtly impact on the end result. The problem I have is that it seems manipulative, contrived and phony. Certainly we have the opportunity to choose between the two ultimate winners of their party’s nomination, but it’s what happens up to that point that I find troubling.
There are four factors that have contributed to this in the recent past. First is the role of money and its impact on any given campaign resulting from the Citizens United Case. Second is the role of polling and its staggering growth as a source of “fact” rather than opinion. Third, is the enormous growth of media. Beyond the traditional outlets, we now have cable news, Facebook, twitter and blogs that rather than providing neutral analysis, reinforce voters’ already formed opinions. Finally, there is the highly sophisticated analytical capability within each campaign to assess opinion, fears and desires of any given constituency at any given time. If all else is so controlled and contrived you would then think that at least the debates would provide us with an opportunity to see who the candidates really are and actually be able to make an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
However, as we are all aware, each candidate prepares and rehearses for days prior to the debates. Now that they have had one debate under their belt the preparation can utilize that experience to prepare for the second. Their advisors and writers discuss responses to expected questions and they are coached about posture, body language, eye contact and of course their wardrobe is carefully selected. The fact that the second debate mirrored the first debate in being almost completely devoid of substance, but heavy on the one-line zingers and accusation was unfortunately no surprise. It became a contest of who could look tougher and promise that no country will dare tangle with America if they are President. They all calculated to just enough to sound as if they knew what they were talking about, but not enough to be challenged on fact or reality. They made promises to improve the economy or impact on education or healthcare, but provided no information about how they would fulfill those promises. And then there was the outright misinformation. A perfect example of this was Trump’s discredited statement about vaccines which was amazingly not challenged by Ben Carson or Rand Paul, both doctors. Carly Fiorina, the less studied of the group, gave us misinformation about a Planned Parenthood video, and has been challenged by both the left and the right for her statements. What is concerning however is that the challenges came from outside entities, not from her fellow candidates. We hope that the debates are a true opportunity to measure the candidates, but what we find is that the candidates have measured us and provide with just what they think we want to hear. Who are these candidates and what do they really believe? For me, some of the words coming out of their mouths are quite frightening. But the GOP is not trying to reach me, they want to reach their base. But do they really reflect what the majority of the GOP voters believe?
My point is that whether we’re talking about the debates, the stump speeches, the town hall meetings, the blogs, the polls or the sources of their funds, candidates and campaigns are so carefully calibrated and fine tuned today that we really don’t get to know who they are or what they truly believe. I am aware that candidates have always tried to say what they felt had the best chance of getting them elected. But today it is more difficult to cut through to the truth than ever before. Imagine what the 2012 election might have been had we not learned about Romney’s 47% comment. Do we have to create a special espionage unit to find out who the candidates really are? Is this any way to select our next President? I don’t have the answer, but I think the question is very important.