Could 2012 Be The Least Important Presidential Election In Recent US History?

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INTERACTIONS

Early Wednesday morning, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns wrote a very thoughtful and penetrating piece at Politico essentially to ask, as one blogger bluntly put it, “why this presidential campaign seems so lame.”

The Politico writers were hardly coy about it either. They led with:

“For years, operatives, reporters and potential nominees envisioned the 2012 presidential campaign as a titanic clash of media-swarmed combatants with big ideas about the future. In the Republican primaries, this was almost a mantra: this is the most important campaign in a generation.

So why does it feel so small?”

So why does it? Haberman and Burns seem to think it’s Twitter’s fault. The real ideas, they contend, are getting lost in a banal static of infinite minutiae in a joyless grind of hour-by-hour social media battles over the latest flavor-of-the-week triviality. Their description of what’s happening is perfectly accurate, and includes enough examples and anecdotes to fill four pages, so it’s quite detailed; but in the end Haberman and Burns didn’t dig deep enough.

In trying to answer their question, “Why does it feel so small?” they simply elaborate on what they mean by “feel so small,” give examples of it, and describe it in more detail. They do a fantastic job of dramatically illustrating just how small it is. Their piece is mostly descriptive, but hardly explanatory. If it is intended to be explanatory, then Haberman and Burns are saying that the uninspiring, small-minded presidential campaign we’ve seen so far is an inevitable result of the inherent nature of the dominant and growing mediums for disseminating information and shaping public opinion, particularly social media.

In this view, the cause of our present electoral malaise is purely or mostly mechanistic, logistical, a function of changing technology. But there’s a deeper cause than that. All these new channels of dissemination aren’t filled with static and minutiae because there are too many of them, they are too unwieldy, and their formats are naturally ill-suited to anything else. Social media channels are filled with static and minutiae because the two parties aren’t giving them anything of substance to disseminate.

Social media doesn’t inherently gravitate to the uninspiring, trivial, or banal. The two major parties in this country, their entrenched leadership, their incoherent messages, their inconsistent actions, their broken promises, their sophomoric rivalries, their incompetence, their recklessness, their arrogance, their mutually and perennially bad and worsening public policy outcomes, and yes, certainly both their presidential candidates this cycle are what’s uninspiring, trivial, and banal. That’s not social media’s fault. Social media is just telling it like it is.

In fact, if the effect of social media is to constantly remind the public by way of never-ending trivialities just how little of importance there is to say about either of the two main parties, their trivial skirmishes, and even their presidential candidates, then social media has been an especially lucky development in American electoral politics by subtly and inadvertently, but relentlessly emphasizing a truth and narrative that the mainstream, corporate media before it effectively worked to conceal: that the ideas and actions of the two parties are small and uninspiring, that they have nothing to say. Social media is just a microphone “that split the night and touched the sound of silence.”

Frankly, what on earth would Mitt Romney or Barack Obama have to say to each other? On nearly every matter of public policy, their respective records of word and deed bear few substantive differences. Both their signature legislative accomplishments are essentially the same entitlement reform, one on the state level and the other on a national level (in fact Obama’s reform was based on Romney’s); Romney will be just as cozy with Wall Street going into his first term as Obama was going into his; and their rhetoric and circle of foreign policy advisers forebode no substantive difference on foreign policy.

Their partisan rank-and-file supporters are arguing over trivialities in social media channels because they don’t have anything of substance to debate. The stewardship of the two respective parties has and will continue to lead the country in roughly the same direction, a direction most Americans are not happy with, especially independent voters.

Despite always accusing each other of being too extreme and polarizing, the two main parties in America are essentially no different. They operate like and respond to the same incentives as corporations. As legal entities they have some trivial differences, mostly related to taxes, but they pursue similar goals. Donors and political allies are their equivalent of shareholders, and like corporations, so long as they deliver profits, their donors will continue investing with them. That’s why following the money is so important. That’s also why no one in the two party system has “dared disturb the sound of silence.”

Like corporations, the two main political parties are risk averse and conservative. Corporations don’t like to lose their shareholders’ money, so they play it safe, rehash the same old products and marketing that have always drawn consumers, and pander to the masses. The two parties also don’t like to waste their donors’ money, so instead of being inclined to reform and progress, which are risky, they rehash the same old rhetoric, marketing, and tactics that have always drawn voters. That’s why for all the fighting the parties do, the public policy course we’re on never seems to change.

In contrast to publicly-traded corporations, small businesses and independent artists take more than their proportionate share of big risks, and as a result make more than their proportionate share of progress and innovation. Like independent artists and small businesses, independent candidates are actually inspired by a vision. They have something substantive to say. They may not all agree with each other, but their principled earnestness and focus on policy solutions sets them instantly apart from the candidates of a corporate entity that panders to the masses with a carefully-calculated, uninspired, market research-driven message.

Most interesting, however, is that also like independent artists and small businesses, independent candidates have struggled against major party candidates because they have always lacked the massive capitalization and institutional entrenchment of the parties. But again, like independent artists and small businesses, the Internet has radically eliminated institutional barriers and leveled the playing field so it’s never been easier for independent candidates to raise more funds and leverage them to greater effect. It’s a phenomenon that we are just barely glimpsing for the first time and it has been heavily driven by social media and the topography of our rapidly evolving Internet.

This alone demonstrates the power of social media to cut through the sound of partisan static with meaningful and innovative ideas. Further evidence, as most visibly exemplified by the Ron Paul phenomenon, is the fact that the Internet and social media are such sympathetic harbors for unconventional ideas and candidates that bear a heavy focus on the substantive issues that the two parties are usually too afraid to touch. A quick look at the Arab Spring overseas is even more final confirmation that social media is not only not inclined to the trivial or banal, but that it can be a vital tool in the hands of inspired reformers with a robust vision for change and progress.

So will 2012 be the least important presidential election in recent US history? As long as it’s falsely construed as a contest between Mitt Romney (R) and Barack Obama (D), then it might be. However, if in this election cycle Americans have finally had enough of the two parties; if their vote of no confidence in the two party system resounds when overall voter turnout drops to record lows; if third party and independent candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson win a record high number of votes; if new ideas and new ways of thinking about old problems emerge from the national conversation; if the discussion turns to policy instead of party; if voters start to care more about principles than personality –then 2012 could be the most important presidential election in recent US history.

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
-Paul Simon

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  1. web site Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!
  2. Dan Richards As much as I agree that the social media had help build some small minded people into big names, I also see another aspect; that of which we are willing to allow these types to grow to this level. Neither party has anyone worth the time of day for our Country, yet they are our daily staple as far as news and commentary goes. We must remember the media is just a means to an end. If the people refuse to allow it to be more than that, then we allow this; and if we did not, then the amount of their growth would vastly reduce. So many have allowed themselves to become "Sheeple" and lead to believe what a party, or a political line tells them is true without checking the facts. It is not so much as being "Independent" as it is being a free thinker, or a Moderate.
  3. Eliza No mention that Gary Johnson could be the cure to voter ennui? No mention that this is a former two term governor who had 11.6% job growth during his two terms, versus the 1.5% during Romney's one term and 0.75% during Obama's current term? If I was a college graduate looking for a job, 11.6% would be pretty exciting to me for job prospects when there are little out there for all those recent grads currently under Obama.
  4. DrWJK Tweedledum and Tweedledee Ride Again! Since “the Internet has radically eliminated institutional barriers and leveled the playing field,” lets go the next step and use Internet voting to neutralize the power of Big Money in all US elections. Check out Al Dahler’s post, at http://goo.gl/d9eZF and my comment: http://goo.gl/6IORy William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. Twitter: wjkno1 Author of Internet Voting Now!
  5. Faith Eischen Loved your lasting point about the lack of care of policy-based issues compared to the overly-emphasized personality/ideology of politicians.
  6. Jake Longson I don't find this election year trivial at all. It pretty much comes down to the lesser evil of the two. However, if Obama is reelected this country's fate is sealed, and not for the good either.
  7. William Harris I disagree. This may be the most important election in this country's history. If Obama is re-elected America may never recover!
  8. W. E. Messamore What do you think Romney would do differently than Mr. Obama?
  9. Emmett Pickett Sickly, Sadly On U.S. in 2012: "They" are NOT Fictional! Really think about it; thank you... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulan
  10. Emmett Pickett In AmeriKa 2012, with "Romulans run amok" ON U.S., NOT For U.S., "these" are the "Soviets," so to speak, these are definitely ANTI-republican (small r), ANTI-democratic (small d), Russian-style OLIGARCHS and elites: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/70603974-charles-and-david-koch-revealed-game-changers.html
41 comments
web site
web site

Hi there! This post could not be written any better!

Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept chatting about this.

I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.

Thank you for sharing!

Dan Richards
Dan Richards

As much as I agree that the social media had help build some small minded people into big names, I also see another aspect; that of which we are willing to allow these types to grow to this level. Neither party has anyone worth the time of day for our Country, yet they are our daily staple as far as news and commentary goes.

We must remember the media is just a means to an end. If the people refuse to allow it to be more than that, then we allow this; and if we did not, then the amount of their growth would vastly reduce. So many have allowed themselves to become "Sheeple" and lead to believe what a party, or a political line tells them is true without checking the facts. It is not so much as being "Independent" as it is being a free thinker, or a Moderate.

Eliza
Eliza

No mention that Gary Johnson could be the cure to voter ennui? No mention that this is a former two term governor who had 11.6% job growth during his two terms, versus the 1.5% during Romney's one term and 0.75% during Obama's current term? If I was a college graduate looking for a job, 11.6% would be pretty exciting to me for job prospects when there are little out there for all those recent grads currently under Obama.

DrWJK
DrWJK

Tweedledum and Tweedledee Ride Again!

Since “the Internet has radically eliminated institutional barriers and leveled the playing field,” lets go the next step and use Internet voting to neutralize the power of Big Money in all US elections. Check out Al Dahler’s post, at http://goo.gl/d9eZF

and my comment: http://goo.gl/6IORy

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.

Twitter: wjkno1

Author of Internet Voting Now!

Faith Eischen
Faith Eischen

Loved your lasting point about the lack of care of policy-based issues compared to the overly-emphasized personality/ideology of politicians.

Jake Longson
Jake Longson

I don't find this election year trivial at all. It pretty much comes down to the lesser evil of the two. However, if Obama is reelected this country's fate is sealed, and not for the good either.

William Harris
William Harris

I disagree. This may be the most important election in this country's history. If Obama is re-elected America may never recover!

Emmett Pickett
Emmett Pickett

I am disappointed in President Obama's lack of "marketing and sales mojo," which becomes in the "Bully Pulpit" of the Presidency, or lack there of in his case a truly sadly self-fulfilling prophecy, but will DEFINITELY support him as the tried and true for decades CENTRIST and registered Independent that I proudly am...over, said as someone who is NO leftist and worked FOR Ronald Reagan, twice...I support President Obama over Russian-style neo-fascist oligarchical elitists like "Mitt and the Romulans" (literally), who are driving U.S. with their "neo-con-men" to their version of: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRbwuNxd_dc

Janet Lynn
Janet Lynn

I don;t find it small. I simply will not vote for and illegal communist.

Richard Imhoff
Richard Imhoff

Tthe two partys are as one. Not buying ether partys BS! I'm one step away from going anarcho. But I'm all for Ron Paul or Gary Johnson!

Timmy Cat Chores
Timmy Cat Chores

It has become common knowledge that our political system consists of 2 wings of a corporatist/war party, because social-media allows people to speak to each other and share information from a wide variety of sources, instead of relying on partisan talking points in the corporate media.

Beth Kuykendall Leary
Beth Kuykendall Leary

No difference in the candidates tends to minimize the importance of an election.

Linda Macias
Linda Macias

Gary Johnson people,stop ignoring the obvious

George Wright
George Wright

Not a chance! Two Words Supreme Court. Not to mention the future of the middle class and the American Dream. Vote Romney if you want a future of Corporate oligarchy, Vote Obama if you want America Back, if you believe in a level playing field.

Stephen Lumpkin
Stephen Lumpkin

Because we have been given the choice between evil & evil. Evil will win unless we stop playing by thier rules & go remove all the communists bastards from DC

Randy Lazar
Randy Lazar

Good article ! Sometimes, people listen to much to BS on social media.

Edward Theilmann
Edward Theilmann

Because it's a fraud being perpetrated by corporate amerika and it's rich owners.There is no election when there is no choice.America is a dying empire living with the illusion of freedom. This makes everything that has to do with politics and our freedom small.This country doesn't come close to the America I grew up in back in the 60's.But the sheep don't see it and their liberty is being eroded to the point that we now have a police state mentality running the show under the pretense of security.

Windy Riese McNabb
Windy Riese McNabb

the candidates are small, and they are trying to distract us with all manner of things ... trying to distract us from the true issues, which are not small at all!

Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith

the Federal Reserve banks will win, again.

Margaret Rasor
Margaret Rasor

The system is very dysfunctional as is our government at many levels.

Margaret Rasor
Margaret Rasor

The system is very dysfunctional as is our government at many levels.

Cathy Giancola
Cathy Giancola

I don't find this election trivial at all. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court will also be at stake, so I take this very seriously and so does my family and most people I know.

Cathy Giancola
Cathy Giancola

I don't find this election trivial at all. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court will also be at stake, so I take this very seriously and so does my family and most people I know.

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

Great post. Social media helps us see just how banal and empty the two candidates are

Chad Peace
Chad Peace

Wes, this is another great piece. Could this be the important election because maybe this election will convince candidates that in order to win, they need to talk about real things? One can dream.

Lucas Eaves
Lucas Eaves

I totally agree! The internet and the social media have enable small actors to reach a public way beyond what their wallet could allow them to reach. This website is a perfect example of the usage of social media to disseminate ideas that are not limited by the two parties blinders and enable people to read a great article like this one.

Eric N
Eric N

Fantastic read. You make good point after good point. I especially liked your big vs. small business analogy with politics.

If this election is Romney (R) vs. Obama (D), it is choosing between two grains of the same salt. The internet is our saving grace and is, at the very least, broadening the discussion. Ron Paul would have not been nearly as visible without it, and he has opened a lot of minds, and as the internet continues to spread and evolve, more minds will be opened.

Keep writing!

W. E. Messamore
W. E. Messamore

What do you think Romney would do differently than Mr. Obama?