The relentless campaigning is almost over. The negative ads are about to peter out and the aftertaste will eventually disappear. Sometime in the next few weeks we’ll find out who our next president is – probably. It could take until January if there is an electoral college tie. This seems a good time to take stock.
What have we learned?
1. It is very hard to get a straight story on what you want to know. The candidates won’t release the detail of their plans both because they need to be negotiated with Congress and because the details won’t be to everyone’s liking. The media get stuck on controversial elements of politics that create the best ratings. It is more exciting to talk about class warfare or the 47% than to cover the effects of a president’s policies on the environment and energy or even the economy. And it does not sell TV ads to talk about why the president has virtually no impact on the economy in the short-term or why financial system recessions take longer to recover than typical business cycle recessions. That’s why those discussions only occur on NPR and PBS Newshour!
Here are my recommendations.
- Do as much homework on your own as you have time for.
- List the issues that you really care about that the president (or candidates for other positions) can actually do something about.
- Seek more information from CNN and PBS than from MSNBC and Fox but don’t trust any single source – look for the counter facts from sources that support the other side and figure out the conflicts. Political campaigns use facts to create affirmation, not information. And try to make the case for the candidate you are more inclined not to support. See what happens! Read Unspun by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jameson.
- Ignore the personal attacks. They usually have no substance and only serve to create easy-to-hate opponents rather that educating the public on real positions.
- If you hear it from a Super PAC, it is almost certainly incorrect in its effect even if an occasional fact is accurate. Keep an iPod in year ear so you can turn it up when a Super PAC ad comes on.
2. The country in s increasingly divided leading to more biased news sources, self selecting news sources and the ability to reinforce any point of view you’d like. When the Tea Party begins poll watching and the Democrats begin watching the poll watchers, the level of trust has clearly sunk to historic lows. If only your side can be right, it’s impossible to solve any problems on merit or with new ideas. If the other side consists only of demons, you can’t give in to them.
It’s too late to change the candidates running in all the Congressional races – a very unfortunate situation. That has to be done during the nominating process. However, there are things that can be done now. In particular, the group No Labels has proposed a 12 step plan to fix Congress and 11 steps to fix the presidency. These include fixing several of the procedural blocking tactics used prolifically in recent sessions, the No Budget/No Pay act presently before Congress, making Congress spend enough time in Washington to learn to know each other and to do the committee work they are supposed to do. There are similar steps in their plan to fix the presidency. No Labels is promoting a number of Senators and Representatives who have taken steps to reduce the gridlock and attempted to work across the aisle. I highly recommend them.
What’s happens now?
Who ever wins, there is no mandate. The country is not uniformly crying for more of Obama’s policies any more than it is demanding major changes. If I can read anything into the elections, it is this. The right is comfortable with Romney’s general economic direction but split on defense and foreign policy and distrustful of him as a CEO that many find to be the Etch-a-Sketch of the uncaring, overpaid bank executives they blame for a large share of the recession. A recent poll showed that about one-third of potential Romney voters are anti-Obama voters rather than pro-Romney. The left will be voting for Obama with reservations due to squandered opportunities to achieve the “grand bargain”, resentment at not including a “Public Option” in the healthcare act or resentment at having dealt with healthcare instead of focusing on the economy and building fruitful relationships with Congress. Independents will be in all of those groups.
Unfortunately, the first thing the next president is likely to do is to claim a mandate.