There’s something about political mailers that is particularly enraging. I can’t decide whether it’s their cheap tabloid name smearing, the fact that they probably cost a lot of money, or the notion that whoever prints them assumes I’m a semi-literate jackass who doesn’t take the time to read about the candidates I vote for. Perhaps even worse is the fact that most of the people receiving these ill-intentioned placards in the mail are probably just the sort of non-participatory goons I’m loath to be associated with. They’re the last sort of people anyone would expect to pick up a newspaper — or, god forbid, use the internet for something other than twittering to the world that they just ate a cheeseburger — to read about the various candidates up for sale. Once you consider that, thanks to the evil genius Karl Rove, a lot of these same poorly-informed slobs a very unwitting part of the electorate, the value of false advertising on a glossy eight-by-ten piece of cardboard — to candidates and their special interest groups anyway — becomes readily apparent. One can only hope that the ones who don’t decide to truly participate and educate themselves before wielding their electoral stick at society will eventually lose interest and get back to watching whatever mindless talk show ruled their lives before someone fear-mongered them into leaving what they would normally be doing on election day.
After I threw the latest pile of political mudslinging cards in the trash, my mind drifted again back to the money people are spending on campaigns. The ads littering my doorstep are from a city council campaign! People are throwing gobs of money at a local election for god’s sake! The small city of Santa Barbara is awash with candidates, some of whom have six figure campaign war chests, paid for by every group or individual that would otherwise benefit from bribing a candidate outright. Not that our illustrious President Barack Obama made the situation any better by spending $740 billion (more than George W. Bush and John Kerry both spent during the 2004 presidential election campaign) during his successful 2008 run for the free world’s top spot.
The sad truth is, that’s what it takes to win, but that brings me to another point. Political campaigns are too goddamned long. Why should it take two years to campaign for a four year term? Political oneupmanship has turned our country’s elections into a semblance of the US-Soviet nuclear arms race of yesteryear, albeit with time and money skyrocketing to unparalleled levels as these competitions play themselves out. The bad example the big boys set at the national level has trickled down to small town politics, in places where you can live in a town of 30,000 and start hearing about campaign donations being made before most people even knew there was an election coming up. Wanna run for the vector control district seat in your neighborhood? Better have cash on hand or the ability to get some. I’ll admit that begging people for money is a good way to practice kissing ass when you’re trying to get elected, but I think we need to institute some kind of campaign finance non-proliferation treaty at this point in the game — not just for the amount of money being sucked into the hole, but also the length of time this irritating circus goes on. I’m not alone in my opinion that the carnival-like atmosphere of campaign time cuts into the productivity of elected officials when they’re constantly having to worry about kissing babies and panhandling.
My suggestions: Let’s do away with the two year campaign saga and put a very low, very tight cap on spending. New Zealand, the UK, and a few other countries have the right idea by limiting political ads. If special interest groups want to influence peoples’ decisions about who gets elected, they can get busy writing opinion editorials — after they get past the initial screen of the newspapers’ bullshit detectors. Other than that, candidates and their staffs can use their creative ability to make the best use of limited time and resources, much like most Americans should be doing anyway. As for the thick cardboard tabloid mailers, I think we’d all be better off if a few trees were saved instead of making them at all. But then, my starry dreams of a better world are all hinged upon people taking more interest in what’s going on and informing themselves before they hit the polls. Too optimistic? Only time will tell. The record of history doesn’t bode well for such an eventuality, but stranger things have happened.