Monday, June 11, 2012

How To Get Money Out Of Politics

The billions of dollars spent on political campaigns is unsettling.

Not only are the amounts astronomical, but the majority of that cash is used, not to advertise one's own achievements and character, but to denigrate an opponent with out-of-context quotes or incredibly misleading, if not downright false, "facts."

We have no problems with campaigns spending money to crisscross the nation to shake hands, kiss babies and give stump speeches. We also have no problem with the use of new technologies (Facebook, Twitter, websites and blogs) that promote the candidate and their platform.  That’s campaigning at its core - promoting the candidate's abilities, accomplishments and character.

It’s the constant and involuntary assault of expensive political advertisements on TV that must go, and they will.

We don't need to rely on more government to fix this problem.  Supreme Court reversals or more “campaign finance reform” legislation are not the answer. We can’t restrict free speech. As uncomfortable as unlimited (but disclosed) political spending might make us, we can’t make exceptions to the FIRST amendment of our Constitution. We just can’t.

The power to change these tactics lies with the voters and the candidates themselves.

Voters will force this change because of two budding phenomenon:

Firstly, the days of sitting down and watching a TV program, and its accompanying ads, is dying rapidly. DVR’s, online archives, NetFlix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. are all taking over as the go to spots for entertainment. None of these business models have figured out how to incorporate ads without losing viewers – at least not yet. Therefore, as traditional advertisers know all too well, the cost effectiveness of political ads on TV will slowly erode. 

Secondly, voters are tired of the constant barrage of political ads during election season. It’s taken too long, but voters have come to realize that everything said in these ads is, at a minimum, highly misleading, and most likely a downright lie.  When was the last time you saw a political ad on TV and it actually informed your view of a candidate or issue?  Political ads have jumped the shark and voters know it.  There may even come a point in the not so distant future where running negative ads becomes a political liability. Producing and placing these political ads will be flushing money down the toilet.

Once these eventualities set in, it will be up to the candidates to abandon the negativity and run a more conventional campaign, connecting with the people, and promoting their solutions to the issues of the day without the constant need for fundraising activities. This approach might even allow a candidate to avail themselves of the option to run a publicly financed campaign, freeing them to focus on thought leadership instead of the constant search for more cash.

A key catalyst in this transformation could be a renewed focus on the televised debate. As we’ve seen from the Republican primary, there is a huge appetite from the voting public for debates. The major networks would fall over themselves to be able to produce and air the events, and they have the potential to be incredibly powerful tools for garnering votes – particularly for the most qualified candidates.

Would you watch a weekly hour-long debate between President Obama and Governor Romney where each candidate was given the same amount of airtime, were asked tough but fair questions, had a opportunity to directly respond to their opponents criticisms, and most importantly, were kept honest by the intelligence and integrity of an independent moderator?

Of course you would. What’s a better way to understand the true character and ability of a candidate - through intelligent debates, or from slimy political ads?

This system would fill the public space with accurate and useful information from which to make informed voting decisions, and will do so at a fraction of the amount currently spent on political campaigns. Who knows, if we cleaned up the political process, we might actually start to attract the best and most qualified candidates for office and not just the raging egomaniacs we get now.

Imagine if the President’s first term could actually be spent on Presidential activities rather than on re-election fundraising activities or if challengers didn't need to be independently wealthy, or backed by a network of independently wealthy individuals to be a viable candidate.

It’s a no-brainer...and therein lies the problem.

While politics is flush with cash, it’s short on brains.  We hope we're prescient, but we're not holding our breath.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Quote of the Day - June 8th

In a spot-on op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan crafts this perfect summation of our current president:
President Obama's problem now isn't what Wisconsin did, it's how he looks each day—careening around, always in flight, a superfluous figure. No one even looks to him for leadership now. He doesn't go to Wisconsin, where the fight is. He goes to Sarah Jessica Parker's place, where the money is.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You..."

One of our earliest school memories was a quote board we had in our 4th grade class room. Ms. Selario would put a quote on the board, but instead of just writing it on the board, she would use pictures to represent each word and the class had to figure it out. The only quote we remember was JFK’s famous line in his inauguration speech “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

Think about that quote for a minute against the backdrop of today’s society and politics.

Politicians run around bragging about all the things they will make the country do for you, without a peep about the things you should be doing for your country (except for "millionaires" - they should be doing even more).

It’s the complete opposite of what JFK urged 51 years ago, and it’s pathetic.

Next time you hear a political ad, speech or tweet, there is a very good chance that it conveys a promise of money or services that the government should provide to individuals, rather than how government can support individuals who positively contribute to their country.  A quick scan of today's White House tweets shows promises for lower student loan interest rates, free check ups and prescriptions for women, subsidized mortgage refinancings and insurance rebates.  In other words, what the country can do for you.   

The White House did have a tweet about how tax cuts for the wealthy and small businesses are bad, but asking less than 1% of the population to fund an even higher percentage of government entitlements hardly seems to fit into JFK’s ideal. Asking the country to pay for your birth control pills, your motorized scooter, or 99 weeks of vacation job-hunting sounds a lot like asking what your country can do for you. Paying zero or negative income taxes, squandering the opportunities provided by a free education or being satisfied with a government funded life, in perpetuity, is not what JFK had in mind when asking what you can do for your country.

Based on his quote, we’d guess that JFK would be very uncomfortable with the decline in personal responsibility in society today. It’s always someone else’s responsibility or someone else’s fault – never our own.

Your kid acts out or performs poorly in school – it’s the teachers fault. Armed with your limited use liberal arts degree from Timbuktu State, you can't find a job and can’t pay your government-subsidized student loans – it’s the governments fault and they should further reduce your already subsidized interest rate or just forgive the loans altogether. You smoke 3 packs a day, hydrate on Jack Daniels, and feast on fast food and wonder why health care is so expensive – it’s the insurance industry’s fault. You bought a house you couldn’t afford, haven’t paid your mortgage in three years, have 10 maxed out credit cards, and you wonder why your house is foreclosed upon – it’s the "vampire squid" bank’s fault.

We live in the land of opportunity, not the land of entitlement.  

Once those who would rather ask what their country can do for them outnumber those who have asked what they can do for their country, reforming our entitlement society will be electorally challenging and the status quo will ultimately lead to economic and social devastation.

Just ask Greece.