Monday, November 13, 2006
Bitter old fart time.
First, let's talk about Christmas. Or, as those in the shopping mall industry call it, Veterans Day. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, November 11th is now the day when the majority of shopping centers trot out their version of Santa Claus to hear the kid's wish lists.
Obviously, from the first sentence of this piece, you know that I think this sucks. I don't think that Christmas should be allowed into the public sphere until the day after Thanksgiving. I hate it when a holiday is shoved down my throat before the holiday previous to that one has happened. As a matter of fact, I started a whole 'nother blog just to have a place for rants concerning this execrable practice.
(Plug: If you have a rant concerning a holiday - any holiday - either e-mail it to me at Suldog@aol.com or just point me to where it lives. I'll gladly publish it at Bah! Humbug! The next collection is due out on this Friday, November 17th. If you don't have a rant, maybe you have a fond reminiscence. Equal time will be provided to the Pollyannas.)
Understand something, please. I don't find the early mention of Christmas painful because I hate Christmas. Quite the opposite; I absolutely adore Christmas, for reasons both secular and religious. My problem is with the greed surrounding the secular aspects and the cheapening - or even total elimination - of the religious aspects. And the more days the holiday poaches upon the days that should be allotted to the celebration of other holidays, due to avaricious merchants, the less important and special it becomes. So, my belief is that Santa Claus should NOT be making appearances at malls prior to about the 24th or 25th of November at the earliest.
(Now, now, children. Let me assure you that it's not really Santa showing up at these crummy malls. The real Santa wouldn't prostitute himself like that.)
While the "standard" mentioned above, of November 11th, is bad enough, the Simon Property Group set a new record this year for jumping the gun. They had the balls to drag their Santa out of the mothballs on November 3rd. November 3rd! They not only pre-empted Thanksgiving, they said, "fuck you" to Veterans Day, as well. Nice.
The Simon Property Group, for those of you - like me - who will never set foot in one of their properties while they continue such hideously gluttonous pecuniary practices, consists of (in Massachusetts) the Square One Mall in Saugus, the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, and the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro. Outside of Massachusetts, check your local listings and then act according to your conscience.
Now, let's talk politics.
During the recent gubernatorial election here in Massachusetts, there was a lot of talk concerning whether the two "minor" candidates, Christy Mihos and Grace Ross, should have been included in the televised debates with the two "major party" candidates, Deval Patrick and Kerry Healey.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll tell you that I'm a past state chair of the Libertarian Party in Massachusetts. Therefore, my position is easily discernible. I think that if you're on the ballot, you should be treated equally with all other candidates on the ballot. Your mileage may vary. If so, you're an asshole.)
As I see it, here's the main problem with our electoral system: the news media. They decide whom you should be allowed to hear. They decide who "deserves" coverage. If they don't outright decide the elections, they certainly have the power to strongly influence the outcomes. Until the news media is held accountable for their decidedly unfair practices, we will never have truly clean elections in this country.
Here is how the deck is stacked against "minor" candidates, by both the media and the incumbent government. First, in many places, they have to jump much higher hurdles than the "major" (read: media and government approved) candidates. They have to collect more signatures, at a higher cost of both time and money, and sometimes from a smaller pool of possible signatories, than the Democrats and Republicans, just to get onto the ballot. They have to do this without the aid of the free publicity given the Democrats and Republicans by almost all media outlets.
Next, even while they are struggling to gather these signatures and gain some sort of notice, the major television, radio and print outlets are reporting daily on the major party hopefuls. Before anyone even hears the name of a "minor party" or independent candidate, it has been fixed in the public mind, by the news media, that there are only two viable choices. Of course, they are the only viable choices because the news media have dubbed them so.
Then, after the news media have anointed their viable choices, they then get together, not unlike a cabal, and stage debates for the public. These dog-and-pony shows are televised and broadcast and reported upon by the media themselves. Having already made the lesser-known candidate's task near impossible, they then try to exclude him or her from these debates, as well as general reporting of their campaigns, by noting a poor showing in polls which the media themselves concoct. When the candidate rightly complains about this favoritism, he or she is portrayed - just this side of the libel laws - as a crank.
After all of this rigging of the possible outcomes, the news media have the absolute gall to insult the public by scolding them for not coming out to vote in larger numbers. They make a great show of hand wringing and moaning and decrying the fact that a lower and lower percentage of the populace eligible to vote shows up for each succeeding election. Well, shove a red-hot poker up my ass and call me Smokey! What a fucking shock! They effectively disenfranchise these people, by limiting the dissemination of useful information concerning all of the candidates, and then they have the nerve to chide these same people for not voting. Of course, what they are pissed off about is that not enough people are being sucked into getting out and voting for their handpicked candidates.
Well, I'm all full of complaints, but do I have any solutions to offer? You bet.
1 - Abolish Primary Elections
The choosing of candidates for office is rightly the province of the political party wishing to be represented. Make the decisions at convention or in a smoky back room and let the chips fall where they may. Making the weeding out of unpopular candidates a public process, funded by taxpayer dollars, only encourages less competition from those outside of the entrenched system. The "major" parties reap a bonanza of free publicity for their candidates prior to any other candidates even being heard of by the general public. And those in the public who cast a vote in a primary election have already "invested" their vote in that candidate. Should he or she win the primary, the voter is far less likely to switch allegiances when, and if, they finally get to hear another candidate's views.
2 - Limit The Power Of Incumbent Candidates
I am NOT in favor of term limits. As a matter of fact, I think that term limits are one of the most ridiculous and idiotic policies ever foisted upon the voter. If a person is doing a good job, why boot him out of office because he has passed an arbitrary time limit? I don't give a damn if somebody is President For Life, so long as that person keeps winning clean and fair election to the office.
What I am in favor of is limiting the already sizeable power of the incumbent to publicize himself freely in an effort to be re-elected. His name and face are already known to anyone paying even slight attention. Therefore, limit the incumbent's advertising budget - ONLY the incumbent's - and his resources to free publicity via the fawning media.
An incumbent has a readily available track record on which to base a vote for or against his return to office. Additional coverage by the media of anything beyond the carrying out of the duties of his office should be, if not forbidden, discouraged via true equal time provisions. If a media outlet gives air or ink to any incumbent running for re-election, it would probably be a good idea to require giving the same to all opposing candidates.
(It pains me to admit that this runs somewhat counter to true Libertarian philosophy. Libertarianism generally calls for private business to be allowed to do whatever they wish and then let the public decide whether or not to patronize that business. However, since the government limits access to the airwaves through licensing and regulation, therefore in practice limiting freedom of the press to those with the freedom to BUY a press, I believe it makes sense to limit the power of the incumbent government to remain incumbent by using that limited press to their advantage in establishing rules that quash any opposition.)
What drove this home to me in the election just past was the exclusion of Mihos and Ross, the "lesser" candidates, from a series of puff pieces done by WCVB-TV in Boston, profiling the home life of the candidates for governor. Healey, the Republican, and Patrick, the Democrat, were shown with their families, engaging in their everyday activities. My, how fucking informative. And what this brought to mind, for me, was the fact that the media wants to butter their future bread by kowtowing to those they feel have a realistic chance at becoming the future governor. They couldn't give a shit less about fairness to the other candidates - and, as a result, to you and me - because those people (and you, and me) will not be of any use to them later.
3 - Make The Publishing Of Polling Results Illegal
By conducting polls, which may or may not be skewed so as to elicit a desired response, and then publishing those results, the media makes it desirable for voters to see themselves as aligned with a winner, thus making it equally desirable to not be seen as a loser supporting someone without a perceived chance to win the election.
(When I say, "skewed", I mean utterly biased. There are precious few polls conducted without an obvious leaning towards the approved "major" candidates. Many polls ask only if you will be voting for candidate A or candidate B, relegating candidates C, D and E to a nebulous "other" category, if they are mentioned at all.)
When a poll appears stating that Joe Democrat has the support of 55% of the voting public, while Mary Republican has gained 35%, how much do you think the supporters of Charlie Independent, getting 8%, or Jane Minorparty, at 2%, want to stand up and shout out their support of their candidates? Nobody outside of the permanently malcontented fringe wishes to be seen as a member of the permanently malcontented fringe. And almost everybody wishes to be seen as an intelligent and likeable person by his or her peers. Thus, published polling results send the candidates doing well even higher and the candidates doing not as well even lower.
There should be only one vote that counts in an election and that is the actual vote on Election Day.
By all means, polls serve a purpose for candidates. They tell the candidates if their message is getting through and whether or not they may need to try a different tack to appeal to the voters. However, the candidates, not the media, should conduct polls. It should not be the media's job to act as consultants to the candidates.
By abolishing the "horse race" aspect of our elections as reported by the media, we would encourage true debate and we would also discourage voters from staying home because they were given a message, by the media, that their vote will be meaningless.
There you go. I have no doubt that, despite my best intentions here, some of you may conclude that I'm against both Santa Claus and democracy. As usual, I am fearless in my opinions, so I invite you to come to my place and I dare you to try and shoot me! I remain, as always...
Abdullah J. Lipschitz
22 Penguin Way
Little America, Antarctica
(Image of Santa from conceptart.)
(And, since I'm being all honest and giving credit, voting machine photo from Town of Windsor, Connecticut.)