The American version of democracy is to do nothing for three years, and every leap year spend a gazillion dollars letting two people insult each other. The perfect election would pit Don Rickles against Triumph, the insult comic dog. Elections are held in all 50 states, but only seven matter, so that the map makers have a quadrennial special selling maps with the other 43 already colored red or blue so people will know how they’re expected to vote. On rare occasions, people in the 43 get to hold their own elections, the way the people of Massachusetts actually got to choose between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, but most of the time, the seats are reserved.
In the last election, the television talking heads kept asking why the ads were so negative. There’s a simple answer – you can fit an insult into a 15-second television ad. That’s also why politicians say “I have a plan” instead of telling us what the plan is. While the Republicans, in the recent election, declined to give the details of Gov. Romney’s plan to revitalize the economy because it would only be used as the basis for negative advertising, it also meant that Gov. Romney’s adherents never really knew what they were voting for. Going back a few years, Sen. John Kerry, when he ran for President, also repeated “I have a plan” as the answer to every question.
In modern elections there’s really no serious discussion of the issues. We have debates, but they seem to be graded on style, not substance. We probably haven’t had a serious discussion of issues since The Federalist Papers, but we should, if only because if we did, it would be a clear win for liberals and progressives. The fact is, we’re right and they’re wrong, but it takes more than 15 seconds to explain why.
Right now there’s a major discussion of the deficit and tax policy. The Republican position is that rich people are job creators who can be bribed with lower taxes to work harder and make more jobs for the rest of us. There have been a small number of people who were really job creators, but they were mostly inventors, like Thomas Edison, or industrial designers like Steve Jobs. The people in finance make lots of money for themselves, but they don’t need factories, stores or delivery trucks. The only people they benefit are themselves. Even the true job creators only succeeded because they made things that other people wanted – because we’re the real job creators, the customers. We, us. To create jobs, increase the number of customers by getting money into the hands of people who will spend it – a strong middle class. Don’t worry about the rich. If they pay 25% in taxes on $1 million they keep $750K, but if they pay 50% on $2 million they net $1 million. If your customers don’t have any money, you won’t either – but the Republicans haven’t learned that yet.
We’re also right on the subject of health care. While the Republicans are demanding cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and the complete elimination of Obamacare to cut the deficit, the real answer to both improving health and cutting costs would be to replace all three programs with an efficient single payer system. Republican response would be to scream “Socialism!” so we’ve been running away from the facts, but single payer is a lot less expensive than either the old non-system or than Obamacare. If we want to be healthy and spend less money doing it, that’s the way to go – but it takes more than 15 seconds to explain.
Can we get people to pay attention for more than 15 seconds? Maybe. Regarding the debate about Keynesian economic stimulus Paul Krugman, in his New York Times blog, has been explaining both the history and theory of why austerity is the wrong approach during a depressed economy – and he’s a clear and convincing writer. When it comes to cutting the military budget, Ben Cohen, of True Majority and Ben & Jerry’s, has done a series of excellent YouTube illustrations of the federal budget, and the defense budget, ranging in length from about 2 minutes to 8 minutes.
In the last election, the Democrats harnessed the power of the social media. Twitter may be the wrong format for serious policy analysis, but Facebook has potential. When people get a link from a friend or relative, they’re likely to follow it. The True Majority cartoons haven’t gone viral, but with a modest investment during the off season for campaigning, Mr. Cohen’s presentations, and others like them, could have a real impact on the national debate.
That’s a good thing, because when there is a real national debate, and the facts are examined, liberals win every time.
Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2013
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