On Nov. 6, most of you will sheepishly leave the polling station after voting for some congressional candidate whose name you won’t remember the next day.
During your walk home from the polls (similar to any walk of shame) you’ll realize you’ve done something irrational and impulsive. You were swept off your feet by passionate pleas and charm — you voted for the wrong reasons.
This election has undoubtedly been one of the most ugly to date. Candidates have replaced substance with emotional triggers in an attempt to win you through the amygdalae rather than the more deliberative side of your brain.
Presidential candidates are appealing to your quick-thinking but irrational side. Both Obama and Romney have spent more time fear-mongering or dazzling us with rhetoric than discussing the issues that we face.
The same thing is happening in congressional races. Why should candidates waste time winning a vote with substance, when they can win it quickly and cheaply? They’re hoping for an election-night stand and in two years they will come crawling back for an electoral booty call.
While many will blame candidates and campaign strategists, it’s not their fault. Politicians take advantage of us simply because we let them. We allow ourselves to be persuaded by the wrong things — so we’re to blame. We’re just too easy.
Today, politics is a game of money ball. Campaigns spend every waking minute calling people and asking for donations. The campaigns then use the money to contact as many voters as possible and earn votes in the most cost-efficient way. This leads to campaigns filled with 30-second empty pleas — or pick-up lines.
These clever one-liners appeal to the quicker, more emotional side of our brains. They’re also more efficient and cost-effective. Think of the images you see in campaign advertising. There’s the candidate in a hard hat, looking over a blueprints. Then there’s the candidate talking to policemen and the one reading to kids.
These images say absolutely nothing about how each candidate might perform in office, but they quickly sweep voters off their feet through positive connotations.
This isn’t the democracy our founders had hoped for. They wanted us to question our elected officials on things that matter. Instead we ask, “How much did that candidate raise last quarter? What did you think of that ad? How do you think that will play with independents?”
This hyper-political metric makes it easy to understand American governance. As a matter of fact, it makes it fun. It’s the reason all of us throw caution to the wind and consent to the election-night stand — but we lose substantive discourse in the process.
There is one thing that we can all agree on: campaign season totally sucks. Money makes winning you over on election night too easy. Money is just like fraternity jungle juice — no matter how unfortunate it tastes, it’s a crucial ingredient to any election-night stand.
If we want to see the end of sleazy politics, campaign finance must be overhauled. We must impose stricter limits on campaign contributions, implement government-matching funds that incentivize candidates to pursue small donations. And, obviously, eliminate “super PACs” and independent expenditures.
There’s no better policy in which to invest our money and energies than one that improves our democracy. But until then, we must rely on voters to change.
You would think by now we would be a classier electorate with real, substantive relationships with elected officials. But we’re still falling for the vain appeals.
We need to think slowly about our democracy and we need to do it every day, not just every election cycle.
Adam Silver is a College junior and masters of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Silver Lining” appears every Wednesday.
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