As I write this, I’m 60 years old and the 2016 elections are coming up. It’s probably a waste of time, but I’m going to do it, anyway.
Some folks will scan through it and do no more than look at the funny pictures. (If that’s you, you’re welcome.) If they’re politically active, they’ll dig for something — anything — to determine whether I’m liberal or conservative, then lose interest if I don’t agree with them.
That’s called Confirmation Bias, for those who like fancy terms: you only want stuff that reinforces your point of view.
I ran across this constantly during the Great Y2K Circus. Much to my own surprise, I became a noted Y2K Doom Debunker. I repeatedly pointed out to the True Doomers(tm) that each predicted “doom date” during 1999 had been a complete bust. The hardcore doomers remained convinced that the end of the world was approaching. They called me names. They accused me of wanting people to die.
Even as January, 2000 approached and it had become obvious (to everyone else, anyway) that nothing really bad was going to happen, they continued to believe. They retreated into their special Doom forums online and kept their spirits up. And of course, we all know how that one turned out. (Hint: we’re still here.)
I’m certainly not ashamed of what I believe. I’m a Christian and I lean to the right (though with a strong libertarian streak). But I’m not trying to convert you here. (I do that over here. Heh.) Continue believing as you wish; we can still be friends.
In fact … that’s the main reason why I’m writing this. This nation is as divided as I can remember and it’s time for that to stop. It’s silly, and even worse, we are being manipulated into this.
Ah, The Internet
Not that many years ago, if you had an opinion that you wanted to share with the world, your choices were limited. You might could get a Letter to the Editor into your local newspaper, but it would then compete for attention with impassioned screeds about the evils of hog farming and noisy airports. Boring.
Along came the Internet. The WWW. The Intertubes(tm).
Nowadays, anyone with an opinion can post it on the Web. We’re all famous and for longer than 15 minutes.
This is a good thing; don’t misunderstand me. But if there is a downside, it’s the fact that anyone with an opinion can produce a Website (yes, including me!) and gather a few followers … and they’ll all be convinced that they are part of a Great Group(tm) that is destined to change the very fabric of society.
And remember what I said about confirmation bias? The Web is perfect for a group of True Believers.
You have progressive sites that hang onto every gaffe made by Bill O’Reilly and Fox News; conservatives have equivalent sites that tirelessly nitpick everything said by Chris Matthews and MSNBC.
The Rise Of The Meme
Another effect of Web-based groups is the rise of Internet memes — ideas or concepts that are usually tied to an image, often photoshopped. For example, there’s this guy:
His name is Josh “Randy” Sullivan, a rabid Cardinals fan (to the eternal mortification of the entire city of St. Louis, I’m sure), a racist and a wacko. He showed up with that now (in)famous sign at an anti-war protest (he was a counter-protestor, i.e., pro-war) in Missouri. Someone snapped that picture and it became an overnight sensation.
Amongst liberal and progressive groups, he became the poster child for the Tea Party and conservatives in general. He fits all of the stereotypes: white, racist and unsophisticated … but in fact, I could find no evidence that he’s a member of any group, Tea Party or otherwise.
I’m going to make an important point, one that will become even clearer later on. Most of what you see from the established political parties, and especially from Washington, is carefully designed, thoroughly-checked for visual impact (and spelling!), then group-tested for effect. Even the daily talking points now are tested with focus groups.
But anytime you get ordinary, everyday people involved, you’re going to see things like this:
… or like these:
The fact is, most people can’t spell and/or have less-than-perfect grammar. (Including, judging from the picture on the right, some educators.) The truth is, when you see slick, well-designed signs, you are looking at something that was professionally-made … and it is almost certainly not a “grass-roots” production.
Pardon; Je Prêche …
But I shall only preach briefly, then continue with what I do best: have lots of fun and skewer some sacred cows.
Why are colonoscopies more popular than Congress as I write this? Because of the way they’ve rigged the Game, the way they’ve built their bases of support and how they’ve raised mind-numbing amounts of money from frightened Americans.
We can change this. Stop Thinking Democrat or Republican. Both party machines are just using you and me. Period. Look at person, not party.
If you’ve seen the earlier versions of this page, you’ll know that I’ve edited this. The more I’ve thought about it, what we need is representatives who will … represent us. (What a concept, huh?) I couldn’t care less whether my guy is a “good Republican” or if your guy is a “loyal Democrat.” In fact, if they’re embedded in a Party Machine, I’m inclined to not vote for them for that single reason.
I’m conservative-leaning, so to be fair, I’ll use a Republican example. Scott Brown was elected to fill Teddy Kennedy’s vacant seat in 2009 and Republicans crowed and cheered. But Brown often voted against the wishes of the Republican Party. I can distinctly remember some conservatives (notably, Laura Ingraham, whom we were airing at the time) feeling “betrayed” over this.
But the way I looked at it — and the way you should look at it — the only question that matters is, “did Scott Brown vote the way that the people of Massachusetts wanted?”
Once we get a new Congress, we need to (re)learn how to compromise. You cannot have everything that you want. I cannot have everything that I want. The best that we can do is to leave one another alone and agree to disagree.
You think eating meat is wrong? Fine. Don’t eat meat. But don’t try to stop ME from eating meat.
You think belief in God is silly? Fine. Don’t believe in God. But don’t call me names, or assume that I’m ignorant or superstitious just because I do.
See how simple this is? If I try to ram my beliefs down your throat, or you attempt the same with me, there will be a fight.
DUH, people. DUH!
It’s up to us, because the politicians (of both parties) have, with malice and forethought, created a system that only works to re-elect themselves over and over. Their consultants and strategists only care about winning and don’t care if they set neighbor against neighbor. And here’s the really sad thing:
For “The Little Guy/Gal!”
Both parties claim that they’re for “working families.” They’re for the “little guy.” They care about you.
This is the next thing that you need to get into your head: most politicians in Washington are quite wealthy … Democrats and Republicans.
Look at the richest people in Congress. As I write this, a Republican, Darrell Issa, is in the top spot, but that changes from one year to the next. Even with Issa in the top spot, 7 of the top 10 are Democrats.
To any honest person, this is obviously not a Dem-vs-Repub thing. Anyone who tries to make it that is just being a partisan hack and you can safely ignore them. (I hereby grant you permission.)
OpenSecrets.org has the skinny on the money collected by each member of Congress. For example, Harry Reid (D-NV) has received over $3.5 million from lawyers and over $1.2 million from securities and investment firms. His counterpart, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has managed to snarf almost $1.4 million from the investment folks and a not-too-shabby $700K from the lawyers himself.
Does this affect how politicians vote? I’m sure you’ll be astonished: yes. The members of Congress vote the way their big donors want over 95% of the time. Again: this is true of both Democrats and Republicans. Better yet, both vote the way their big donors want even when their constituents would rather they vote the other way.
Do you know why turnouts are so low in elections nowadays? Because most people figure it makes no difference whatsoever. It’s time for us to change that, too.
One Big Happy Family
Now let’s take a brief look behind the scenes. I’ve already hinted about some of this: everything is staged and tested against focus groups, and everything is carefully planned. But it gets even better.
The members of Congress might call each other nasty names for the cameras by day … but will then travel in the same limos or airplanes and go to the same dinner parties that evening.
Yes, there are some exceptions, but especially amongst the long-time Washington establishment, that’s the truth.
The media is complicit in this. In fact, they often share the same limos and planes and go to the same dinner parties as well. (Whether you agree with Jorge Ramos on immigration, his take on it here is spot on the money.)
Here are some pictures from a recent Washington Correspondent’s dinner:
Exhibit One: The Majick Pojum
I thought it might be fun to show you a couple of examples of how everything in (and from) Washington is staged theater. (The exceptions are not only rare, they’re usually hilarious.) I remember this first one, from 1998. I watched it happen.
At the time, the Democrats in the House grumbled that they might walk out if the Republicans persisted in impeaching President Clinton. Persist they did, so “walk out” they did …
… straight to a pojum that had magically appeared on the lawn of the House. Filled with microphones. Surrounded by perfectly-placed cameras, with satellite trucks, wires and reporters and crews everywhere. Ready and waiting.
My point here is that the everyone knew the result of the “vote” well in advance … including the news media. In fact, that’s almost always the case. There is absolutely no drama in a typical Congressional vote, even though the media likes to pretend that there is.
At any rate, pojums (poja? I never was good at lattun) are becoming less common nowadays. Better cameras and directional microphones allow staged events to look a tad more authentic. But the operative term remains, “staged.”
Exhibit Two: Speeches To Empty Chambers
You might think I’m picking on Democrats with my previous example, so now, we’ll look at Noot and the Young Republicans.
First, some quick background for those who might not know: C-SPAN is the de facto cable channel of record for Congress. But they are required to use the cameras and mikes provided (and tightly controlled) by Congress. They have never been allowed to put their own equipment in the House and Senate chambers.
Back when (Democrat) Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House, Congresscreatures would insert written “speeches” into the public record. Boring, but they could honestly say, “I argued for the Corn and Beans Act! I’m on record!”
Then a young Republican from Georgia named Newt Gingrich had an idea: why not actually make the speeches on camera when the chamber was empty? C-SPAN would carry the speeches and the rest of the media would have some ready-made video for (in my best Noot impression), “th’ Amurican pipple.”
Hah, hah! How clever! The folks at home would think that their Congresscreature was bravely and boldly dressing down his colleagues, like this …
… when, in fact, it was more like this …
(By the way, I had to hunt to find the image above. I think it’s Ron Paul giving his farewell speech, but I’m not sure. Congress is serious about restricting what you’re allowed to see or hear from their august chambers.)
Back to Noot and the Rowdy Republicans. The late Tip O’Neill had a wicked sense of ‘yumor. He had the cameras pan around during one particularly fiery Republican speech. C-SPAN’s viewers saw that empty chamber! The mask was ripped off; the curtain had come down!
In one of the few examples of true bipartisanship in the modern era, both sides of the House most solemnly agreed that this could not, repeat (harrumph), be allowed to happen again — especially given that both parties wanted to make these faux “speeches.”
Again: C-SPAN has begged both Democratic and Republican leadership(s) to let them install their own equipment for decades. Hasn’t happened. Up to the present day, Harry Reid (D), Mitch McConnell (R), Nancy Pelosi (D) and John Boehner (R) have all steadfastly refused, year after year. They want to control what you see and hear.
And the media plays right along with this! For example, some of you have seen this clip and remember the outcry from Republicans:
How can you tell if a “speech” is in front of a mostly-empty chamber? I’ll answer that with an old joke: Q. how do you kill a politician? A. Put a video camera at the bottom of a lake. He/she will drown.
If politicritters think that many people will be watching, they’ll be there. They will fight for seats in view of the camera, too. That’s why you will always see the Speaker of the House and other luminaries grinning behind the President whenever he addresses Congress. Ergo, the presence of empty seats is your first clue.
Next, look for slick graphics. Folks, that doesn’t happen in full session. (It might block the aforementioned cameras. Heh.) Even the President won’t normally use visual aids when he addresses Congress. The slicker the graphics, the more likely it is that it’s a “speech from the floor” in front of an empty House or Senate chamber.
And the media plays right along with all of this.
It actually varies from one region to another, but let’s say we have a Congressional district with 40% registered Democrats, 40% registered Republicans and 20% independent/unaffiliated. The campaigns advisers and strategists can hit that magic 50.1% of the vote in two ways:
- by getting enough independents to vote for their guy/gal, and/or
- by convincing the other guy’s people to stay home.
Along comes a grassroots candidate who wants to take on Senator Longtime Snogglehorn. The challenger is going to have a terrible time raising a lot of money. Snogglehorn, on the other hand, will usually have more than enough cash on hand to bury that grassroots candidate with negative ads.
Especially in a general election, you want to make sure your “base” supporters will show up. This is easy, too: just find a hot-button issue that they care about. It might be abortion, or a higher minimum wage, lower taxes, or gun control; whatever.
Just warn your base in the direst possible terms that if they don’t get out to vote, the world will end, and they will lose their most Blessed And Sacred Cow. They even have a standard script:
The Evil [insert name of group or political party] want to take away your [insert name of thingie here]! Send money today so that we can fight for your [re-insert name of thingie]!!eleventy!!!
What they’ve never seemed to consider is that, after flooding the world with month after month of negative ads filled with half-truths, if you lose the election, your base is now left frightened and angry. Now they’re convinced that the Other Guy is a Nazi, a Christian Dominionist, a closet Muslim who wants to impose Shariah law or worse. Is there any wonder that we’re as divided as we’ve ever been?
McDonalds isn’t likely to run ads that claim that Burger King uses toxic chemicals and poisons their customers. There’d be lawsuits and those cost lots of money. But there’s another, and simpler, reason.
Sure, McDonalds wouldn’t mind stealing BK’s customers. That’s just business. But what would they gain by simply depressing BK’s customer base and making it stay home?
Ah, but a campaign strategist doesn’t think that way. If you’re running Joe Brainless’s campaign for Congress, you obviously want to get his “base” — i.e., the 30-45% who always vote for his party. You also want the independents and undecided, if you can get them. But if you can’t get enough to hit that magic 50.1%, you bombard your opponent with negative advertising to convince independents that he/she is “toxic,” and — (drum roll, please!) — to make HIS/HER “base” stay home.
Have you ever heard a friend say this? “I’ve always voted Republicrat, but I can’t vote for that guy. I just won’t vote this time.”
You should look at that friend and say, “congratulations. You’re doing exactly what the other guy’s campaign is hoping that you’ll do.”
So How Do We Fix It?
The picture above is a good start. Like I said earlier: you cannot have everything you want. It’s just not possible. We are not going to agree on everything. Accept that and we’re halfway there.
Respect the beliefs of others, too. Stop the name-calling.
Finally, I meant what I said: anyone who is “party establishment,” Democrat or Republican, should be avoided like the plague.
And here’s the neat part: you can still vote for your favorite ideology. But this time, do it in the primaries. Pick a different candidate. Retire the existing guy or gal and put a fresh face in there.
Oh, and one more thing: ignore the negative ads. Folks, no one is as evil as those ads make them out to be. Let’s make a pledge right now. Let’s spit and shake on it, then double-dog swear: when a negative ad comes on the TV or the radio, I will ignore it. If a negative flier comes in the mail, I will line the bird cage with it.
Get to know your candidates. That’s not as easy with the Senate, but it’s actually very easy to access candidates for the House. Get to know them.
Forget the stupid advertising, imaging and theater. Just ask them what they believe and what they’ll do if elected.
We can change this thing, folks … if we really want to.