People Don't Make Stupid Voters, the Media Does

By David Swanson

George Lakoff has one of the louder voices in the chorus arguing that elections must be won on personality and fluff rather than policy positions. One problem with this advice is that if, at the end of it, you win an election, you won’t know what you’ve won. You won’t know whether the people you elected will do anything you want done unless they’ve told you their policy positions as well as making all the right moves in the area of visual dramatic superficial BS.

A second problem is that the lack of an appealing personality is not a major reason why half the country has no interest in voting at all. Only credible commitment to substantive change could motivate new registration and turnout, and that could win an election, albeit in a non-traditional way.

A third problem is that the weakness of policy positions is not as clear in countries where the candidates have radically different policy positions. Where one candidate wants to move troops to Afghanistan after waiting a couple fo years, and the other guy wants to wait a couple of years before moving troops to Afghanistan, voters have no choice but to vote on the basis of haircuts, posture, and bible-thumping.

A fourth problem is that, what differences do exist between the policy positions of American candidates are rarely reported in the media. Far more media coverage goes to TV ads, polling, financial reports, and personality nonsense. Voters pay attention to that crap because it’s the only thing they’re shown, unless they really seek out the rare reporting of substance on the internet or radio.

So, yes, Lakoff is right that it’s dumb PR to say “McCain’s not a maverick.” But the solution is not to say “McCain is dishonest” or “McCain is irresponsible.” The solution is to go to the heart of what the next president will do to the nation and the world: “McCain opposed torture before he supported it,” “McCain wants our money and our children for more war,” “McCain: He’ll Let the Corporations Run Our Country.”

And the solution of any sort of dumbed down sound byte at all is a solution imposed by the current and alterable state of our communications system, not one imposed by the intellectual abilities of we the people.