What if We Got What We Paid for in Elections?
No political advertising
What if instead of a presidential candidate spending millions on advertising to prove he or she wants to be elected, we just made them say where they stand on the issues? What if all a candidate was allowed to do to promote her or his campaign was to sit for media interviews? How different would the outcome be? How much of a difference would it make in the way our government actually governs?
I've had the opportunity to experience a presidential campaign exactly this way. My family was living overseas, and the only television programming we got was through the Armed Services Network, which is provided by the military and shows no commercial advertising. So while America was being inundated with direct mail, auto-telephone calls, and political ads on TV, billboards, in magazines and newspapers, the only information I received on those running was via the morning and evening network and cable news programs, Oprah, 60 minutes, 20/20 and the Sunday morning news forums, for which the candidates paid nothing.
When I returned to the states just before the election, I realized I knew just as much about those who had thrown their hats in the ring as anybody else of average intelligence and attention span. And I had been spared a great deal of the hocus-pocus churned out by each camp's spin doctors.
I'm sure as a direct result of this limited exposure, I cast my vote based on my own evaluation of the candidate's stand (or lack thereof) on the issues and not as a result of the questionable behavior political wannabes are capable of when it comes to campaign advertising. With the never-ending string of elected officials who get caught in unethical activities, I think it is time for the public to ask if we shouldn't put more restrictions on the cost of political campaigns and consequently, dry up the source of those exorbitant funds and politicians' obligation to those who provide them.
If we must allow political advertising, here are some suggestions:
Limit television advertising to the talking head of the candidate. Spare us any more footage of the other guy in a loop of highly edited soundbites or video with a voice over saying things the candidate would never say him/herself. If you want to get elected, sit in front of the camera and speak for yourself. It's not enough to say you approve the message that follows. Deliver the message yourself.
Print advertising should be no more than a signed letter from the person seeking office to the person on the street. No more hiding behind attention grabbing visuals and Madison Avenue hype.
And we might think about setting a date before which no advertising may be published or broadcast. Countries in Europe call for an election, and it's a done deal in a matter of weeks. The way we conduct elections in this country, if you don't get in our face years in advance, you don't stand a chance. These are not the days of the Pony Express or carrier pigeons. It is possible to be known to the average citizen in a matter of weeks just by hitting the talk show circuit. From what I've seen, those shows are only too willing to serve as a forum for any thing political.
Finally, and most importantly, if we limit the onslaught of campaigning, maybe, possibly, we can only hope our elected officials might have some time left over actually to do what they are elected to do: govern. And govern free of obligation to those who paid their way into office.