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Mindless Campaign, Mindless Media

Where's the beef?

March 2016

A presidential election campaign is the great quadrennial opportunity for a national conversation about our future – about how well we've done and where we've failed; about how we will improve our society as we go forward. The conversation is carried by the candidates for that high office, and is urged forward by "The Press", which is expected to remind the people of our failures and urge the candidates toward solutions. But our Press, print and electronic alike, is completely failing to fulfill its necessary role in a democracy.
Dear friends and readers:
I know I'm not the only one who is filled to the brim with frustration over the inanity of our seemingly interminable American election campaign for president, and the complementary mindlessness of the media coverage of this tragicomedy. Every now and then, when I've forgotten the last time, I'll turn on one of the TV programs that bill themselves as "news and analysis", "election central" or some such – perhaps CNN's program with Wolf Blitzer surrounded by his eight "experts" – actually partisan political hacks – who will "analyze" for us. And they spend a few hours each day covering the election as if it were an athletic event. We hear their invariably onesided prognoses of who will win the next primary election, we hear them recite who's ahead by how many delegates, and which candidate's latest insult might affect the race in the next state.

I am watching Blitzer's gang of eight blathering away over each other about the next milepost – New York state in this case – and about who said what that might offend New Yorkers, and about the unacceptable development of the Republican race and which "white knight" could come charging out of the wings to save the day like a political deus ex machina. They're discussing the amount of money raised and spent, the effectiveness of various mass communication techniques and how advertising costs a lot in New York. In short, the entire useless and disgusting discussion dealt with techniques and results of campaigning, American style – about which plays to make to win the game. Not a word was said about what this election is presumably about: Identifying our national priorites and formulating practical policy proposals related to these priorities during the next four years.

So what should the pundits be discussing, instead of delegates and campaign strategies? How about what I just stated: national priorities and the candidates' plans to deal with these? We have serious issues in this country that the candidates are largely ignoring. Who has heard in this campaign a serious discussion from anyone other than Bernie Sanders of the shameful level of poverty in the US and the crime and incarceration that it invariably breeds? How about debating the miserable standard of K-12 education that has our kids performing among the worst of the industrialized nations. Or the climate change that will have disastrous consequences for those kids unless we wake up and make some drastic changes in the way we use energy – and even if we do there are frighteningly costly improvements that must be made to our coastlines and harbors to prepare for ocean conditions that are already guaranteed to come about. Since a large part of our population is completely unaware of this major issue, wouldn't the election be the right time for candidates and the press to bring it to the fore? Not to mention our crumbling infrastructure that will require unbudgeted major expenditures over the next decades on our roads, bridges, tunnels, railroads, water lines and sewer pipes, water treatment and wastewater treatment plants, electric grid and generating stations, landfills, and air traffic control facilities, to name some of the more prominent needs. All these and more of our most pressing issues – the stuff we really need to debate and to understand – have been largely ignored by the candidates as well as by those who are paid to comment on and interpret the election.

One might say, the reason the media don't deal with such issues is that the candidates don't bring them up. But that's completely illogical. It's the very fact that the candidates don't address these issues that is the issue and that should energize the press. The media should be as outraged as a good chunk of the citizenry is over the vacuousness of the campaign, over how there is no serious national conversation about our future. The nation has a right to hear the truth about our problems, and the truth about what it will take to deal with them. If the candidates won't or can't discuss the great issues, the press has an obligation – implied in their press credentials – to not give them a pass, but to force the conversation on them. It's the press' responsibility to ensure that the candidates converse meaningfully with the people.

If the press refuses to carry out that responsibility, our democracy is in trouble. What we can do as voters is to express our anger and vote for a candidate who is both an honest politician and who will fight for the ordinary citizen who lacks the resources to buy a politician. To me, that's Bernie Sanders. Bernie can't be and hasn't been bought. The others can and have.

© 2016 H. Paul Lillebo

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