We have mistaken a temper tantrum for democracy. In these midterm elections, the rant of mad men passes for political discourse. The person who shouts the loudest on television or says the most inane things is considered a “spokesperson,” and the media thinks that balanced reporting requires that voices of moderation and reason are paired against people who think the President is not an American or a Christian.
The seething popular resentment in this election is not bubbling from the ground up, but trickling from the top down. It has been fed by Fox News and vicious attack ads secretly funded by anonymous corporate contributors.
The result of all this crazy talk is that it is impossible to have a serious discussion about anything. Democrats, no less than Republicans, fail to offer a coherent argument for their political program. Instead, real issues are eclipsed by charges about whether a candidate is a witch or whether another candidate employed an undocumented housekeeper or whether lying on one’s resume is a disqualification.
Is this how our founding fathers imagined our democracy?
Pollsters, pundits, and political operatives are driving our democracy in a bad direction. Winning elections is all about destroying your opponent and turning complex issues into simplistic slogans. And neither party is innocent.
What is the cost to our democracy? In California, for example, we have an election for Governor between two uninspiring figures: on one side, a career politician whose shelf life expired when he left the Governor’s mansion three decades ago and who cannot speak plain English, and on the other side, a former CEO, who has never expressed any interest in public affairs and hasn’t even bothered to vote, but who is now trying to buy the Governor’s mansion for $120 million on her way presumably to the White House. No fair-minded neutral observer could listen to them debate and feel anything other than panic that neither one is prepared to manage the world’s seventh-largest economy. Is this really the best we can do in a state with 35 million people?
Our elections scare off anyone with intelligence, talent, and integrity. For the pundits, it is all very entertaining, and it makes great copy. But who will be left to govern us?