American elections have come a long way since Dwight D. Eisenhower bought the first television advertising spots ever used for political campaigning in history, employing 20 and 60-second spots to convey his message to the American voters.
Before technology, two-way campaigning was difficult.
Politicians could only be in one place at a time, often the battles took place in the newspapers — and the ‘two-way’ aspect of campaigning, especially the collection of donations, was difficult to maintain on a consistent basis.
This led to early systems of patronage, where the candidate’s coattail appointments often had to promise to pay a percentage of their salary back to the candidate to ensure funds for re-election.
William McKinley changed all that with a crafty campaign manager who realized that the real money was in corporate funds, raising over $3.5 million in 1896 dollars to overwhelmingly outspend the Democratic challenger in a tight race.
That set the mode for generations, the political campaigns targeting large donors — while often ignoring, and sometimes at their peril, the general population’s political will.
But social media has changed politics — mainly in that money isn’t everything.
In 2012, Sheldon Adelson spent over $150 million to sway American politics, with almost nothing to show for it. In 2016, Jeb Bush was the best funded candidate in the Republican primary — yet didn’t win a single state.
‘Buying’ American politics is simply not an option at this point in history.
But the key to social media politics — when employed craftily — is that it gives an instant, national (and at times global) two-way campaign with all of its perks and hazards.
In a recent journal article, Dr. Hakan Alp discusses how social media has created the pinnacle of mudslinging in world politics, expanding on the ideas of the spiral of silence theory from the 1970s.
The basic idea is that one of the objectives of ‘winning’ (if there really is such a thing) a social media political battle is to marginalize the opponent through overwhelming facts or insults, gain the support of others to your cause to isolate the opponent, and eventually silence the opponent through embarrassment, exasperation, and/or apathy. ‘Whatever’ might be the most used ending to any political argument — followed closely by some form of insult.
But what has happened is that an overwhelming number of people have come to the point of outright refusal to engage in the political process via social media, largely because of the sheer amount of mudslinging and harassment.
IVN contributor John Smiddy considered this idea, that maybe it’s time to keep our political opinions and intentions to ourselves, earlier this month.
And, to a large extent, he’s right — but what a horrible political reality.
When the fundamental rights of a well-functioning society are protected by political dialog, respect for the political process, and voicing opinions through engagement and the ballot box — voters are being systematically stripped of their engagement by the most aggressive mudslingers.
It’s time to have more platforms like IVN that attempt to elevate the discussion beyond ‘tin-man’ conservatives and ‘straw-man’ liberals.
We need the sharing of ideas, not political bullying.
If we ever needed a theme song for the 2016 election, it would be ‘Everyday People‘ originally recorded by Sly & The Family Stone.
Because in the end, ‘We got to live together’ and each of us are ‘Everyday People.’