To me this has become the true downfall of politics in the last 30-40 years and we see it continuing through the debates of the Debt Ceiling and the ridiculous show that was put on by both sides. Someone who wishes to be informed at times can find it difficult when the best quotes we can find are two sentences and politicians are coached on the talking points and do not stray from the party line so they can all stand together, go home come election time and force feed their political posturing as taking a stand.
This last presidential election is a great example of these things as well. How many of us voted for "Change we can believe in." What is that. I know what change is, I know what I can believe in, but what was change to President Obama? His entire campaign was crushed down in to a one sentence tagline so we could all tweet it and post it on facebook with out too much effort and now others can believe in the change as well. If you can fit it on a T-Shirt or bumper sticker its probably not a solid platform for political office. But such are the times we live in today, beliefs must fit on a banner so they can be plastered all over the place. Is this what democracy looks like, complex ideas and beliefs and styles fit on a sticker.
The second part of this is the looks factor. We all know who would win in a beauty contest between President Obama and Senator McCain (heck they even started to ask if McCain would make it through a term as president due to his "old age"). What interested me was how they brought the future First Lady into the conversation with her "Smart dress" and classy style. The first check box for a Presidential nomination form must read "Are they photogenic" look down the line of possible Republican Candidates for the next election you won't find a Taft in that bunch. Is it possible that McCain chose Palin as a way to make the ticket more "pretty"? The point being what does it matter what their wife wears or how old they are we need to focus on concrete ideas, not party approved sound clips that truly tell us nothing.
All this aside, these issues typically do not bother those who have STRONG party affiliations, they are voting for the R or the D no matter who's name is next to it. This is a problem for the middle the roughly 30-50% which seems to be growing and is truly deciding between two candidates, which could point to better times down the road, if that middle ground continues to grow we can demand that both the right and the left tell us what they mean when the spew out the party line. Maybe they will enlighten us.
In response to the ultimate question about Lincoln: There is a time and a place for everyone if the same issues were present today that were present in the 1600-1800's I believe that he would have been elected, the times called for bold action and he was willing to take such an action.
To finish I would like to announce my candidacy for President of the United States, anyone want to help come up with a bumper sticker?
I think I'll pass on the bumper sticker for the moment, but I would like to offer some thoughts on other issues you've so ably raised.
If you're not familiar with the work of George Lakoff, you might want to begin with DON'T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT. Lakoff agrees with you on the divided electorate, but places the not rigidly affiliated at about 18-20%. But even these, he says, respond to the sound bites and bumper sticker arguments presented on TV and in other media. The difference between the unaffiliated and the other two groups (unflaggingly republican or unflaggingly democratic) is that they have the ability to affiliate with either of the other two groups, depending on whose bumper sticker arguments trigger their allegiance first. If you'd like to read the first chapter of DON'T THINK, it is available online at http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/19811
I agree with you about the problems you point to with regard to political rhetoric as it has developed in the past four or five decades. To me, the reason it is a problem, and the reason it has become so entrenched in our political process is that it works. We, as a population, respond to it. If we were able to laugh at it, see it for the fallacious argument it almost always is, and vote only for people who refused to use it, it would disappear. However, if Postman is right, we will not be able to do that because our media leave us (again the overwhelming majority of us) without the skills to do anything but respond to it. But it is worse than that really, because not only do we not have the skills to reject it and demand substance, for the most part we believe that we personally don't have the problem, it is all of those others. And as long as that is the case, we either choose to decry the situation, or at best attempt to convince others to think as we do. Since everybody else is doing the same, things never change.
Now, about that bumper sticker ....
"This last presidential election is a great example of these things as well. How many of us voted for "Change we can believe in." What is that. I know what change is, I know what I can believe in, but what was change to President Obama? His entire campaign was crushed down in to a one sentence tagline so we could all tweet it and post it on facebook with out too much effort and now others can believe in the change as well. If you can fit it on a T-Shirt or bumper sticker its probably not a solid platform for political office. But such are the times we live in today, beliefs must fit on a banner so they can be plastered all over the place. Is this what democracy looks like, complex ideas and beliefs and styles fit on a sticker."
--Brilliantly said on so many levels. The only way I can play devil's advocate to this is by saying shouldn't we then be expressing what change really does mean to us. If we know it, does it mean that campaigns trust us to disseminate the message ourselves. This is why so many people called Obama's campaign grassroots. People saw the Change moniker and started to define it themselves in conversation, writing, and campaigning. Thus you could argue it was more of a people's campaign than most.
(I am making a big stretch here and agree almost whole-heartily with your words, I just wanted to play devil's advocate)
"What interested me was how they brought the future First Lady into the conversation with her "Smart dress" and classy style. The first check box for a Presidential nomination form must read "Are they photogenic" look down the line of possible Republican Candidates for the next election you won't find a Taft in that bunch. Is it possible that McCain chose Palin as a way to make the ticket more "pretty"?"
---This is really fascinating to me. I took a Women in Politics course when I was an undergrad. They call it the lipstick test I believe. When females run for office there are more articles and questions devoted to things like clothing, lipstick, and such than when males run. This speaks to me as deep seated sexism almost more than anything else. This is why I questioned whether it was TV to blame or if TV just proved a perfect platform and context for deeper US ideology and belief.
"All this aside, these issues typically do not bother those who have STRONG party affiliations, they are voting for the R or the D no matter who's name is next to it. This is a problem for the middle the roughly 30-50% which seems to be growing and is truly deciding between two candidates, which could point to better times down the road, if that middle ground continues to grow we can demand that both the right and the left tell us what they mean when the spew out the party line. Maybe they will enlighten us."
---This is one thing Postman got wrong. He thought the mystic of the candidate would render parties useless.
And my thoughts. Just a few days ago I listened to my favorite radio show, "Philosophy Talk", do a show on the philosophy of Mr. Lincoln. Some questions very similar to these came up. Wonderful discussion ensued and here is the problem of Lincoln. We really don't understand and know the man. So many people have tried and so many groups claim him, but really he is a bit of a mystery. We only have one way to solve that in the United States. We have the media create an image. The image that the media would have created for Lincoln would have been the key to his electability.
Leaving out the fact that Lincoln would probably not have the same monetary advantages and elitist fraternity connections as most candidates, I think he in fact could get elected. I think he would have the same chances of not getting elected as well and I think this speaks perfectly to the power of the entertainment media in this country. Let's suppose Lincoln wins a tough Republican party primary (granted his ideals would probably be closer to the left but lets keep his party name).
Does the media of 2011 brand him as a dignified and relentless leader, intelligent and well-spoken? A man of perseverance that has overcome much and knows the value of hard-work? Someone who steps beyond himself to put the common good above his own aspirations?
Or does the media brand him as an uneducated fool who has little advanced education? A socialist radical who will stomp on the values of everyone to protect a few? Is he a strong-headed person who will not listen to his advisers when they are needed the most? Is his sexual orientation questioned and his morality assaulted?
The media's creation of the candidate would probably be the most important issue of his electability. There in fact lies the problem.
Thanks for taking time from your travels to stop by and share your thoughts.
I really like the idea of thinking about how modern political consultants might "package" Lincoln. The first question that popped into my mind as I read this section of your comment was, "Would Lincoln stand for it?" Then I remembered the 1952 campaign, the first in which televised political spots were used, and the refusal of that other man from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, to allow himself to be "sold like soap." If Lincoln had the ability to see the results of that election, perhaps he'd decide to buy in. On the other hand, four years later, when Stevenson ran again, his campaign produced and ran 30 second spots. The results were the same as in 1952. I guess you've hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph; the fact that modern election outcomes seem to depend on which campaign has created the most resonant image is indeed the problem. If you've not read it, you might want to take a look at Tony Schwartz' THE RESPONSIVE CHORD. Schwartz was the Democratic political consultant who created two of the most memorable TV spots ever run; the 1964 Daisy commercial for Lyndon Johnson's campaign, and the 1972 This Hand Voted for Kennedy spot for McGovern. You may watch both at the Living Room Candidate site.
Thanks for the Philosophy Talk link. I've not heard that particular program, but I'll listen soon.
Thanks for the recommendation. It reminds me of the example Postman uses from the book explaining the candidate that prepared a thorough thesis on all points instead of the simple commercials his rival used. The next cycle he went for the commercials and ditched the writing. Could you imagine now if a candidate relied on a dense and though-out written platform? Could you even find one now?
I had a chance to catch a few minutes of the latest Republican debate in Ames. Speaking in sound bites and opposition was the approach all candidates took. This is surely a creation of TV and radio as they are looking for the best thirty second shot to get on the news. Could you imagine if a candidate said go to my website and read my ideas? I would find it very interesting but I doubt very many would.
And Philosophy Talk is my absolute favorite program. But even it is forced to quicken view points and such to fit the time slot.
I finally found time today to read through the replies to the Lincoln question, and I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful analyses. During my long trip back to Colorado from Iowa yesterday, I tried to imagine Lincoln as a candidate in 2012. Although many considered him an ugly man, visual representations of him by artists always conveyed dignity and leadership. Today's caricaturists would delight in Lincoln's less attractive features, but campaign image makers would probably find ways to soften the lines, reduce the nose, smooth the hair, and dress Lincoln in finely tailored suits and the requisite patriotic neck ties.
As for public speaking skills, Lincoln would need to reject his reasoned rhetoric and reduce his best phrases to a less erudite vocabulary and syntax. I have read that he actually had quite a high-pitched and unpleasant voice, and I'm not sure how he would get around that problem. Perhaps a speech coach could help. I suppose he would have to control his propensity for telling dirty jokes, too, or the religious right would pillory him. He would have to hire an intern with the sole job of turning off the microphone at the end of public appearances.
Lincoln was quite a savvy politician, which makes me wonder if he might have enjoyed today's political games more than we would like to believe. Still, I'd like to think that the depth of his character would be a weapon against fear and untruth even today. Of course, there's the problem of his wife...