Let’s review all the stuff we learned this election season.
Just kidding. As usual, we didn’t learn anything. What’s more, most of us are already gearing up to make the same mistakes in 2020 that we’ve made every even-numbered year for our entire adult lives.
Apparently, consistency is comforting. Our voting patterns are a poofy, goose-down quilt, smothering anything that shows the faintest hint of rationality in a feathery pile of been-there-done-that-so-I-guess-I’ll-do-it-again.
But let’s venture into the realm of fantasy, and imagine that Maine’s electorate still exhibited some faint traces of having a learning curve.
We’d head for the voting booth realizing that soundbite slogans and simplistic solutions almost never translate into good government. We’d acknowledge that there are some problems the state can’t solve and accept that even those troubling issues that government could have some impact upon will likely result in solutions that fall far short of expectations. Oh, and we’d have accepted the idea up front that accomplishing anything is going to cost money. Our money. And probably more of it than was originally budgeted.
You can see why we’re not willing to go there. It’s discouraging to deal with the possibility that no matter what political philosophy we embrace, we’re kidding ourselves about its effectiveness. Better to employ the magical thinking found in League of Women Voters’ brochures and postings on the “As Maine Goes” website.
But if we ever did decide to behave rationally, we might find that living rough has its pleasures, too. Here are a few ways we could accomplish that.
Do away with debates. In approximately 3,000 hours of gubernatorial blathering this year, not one candidate said anything important or even interesting. At most, we learned that Democrat Janet Mills is boring, Republican Shawn Moody is clueless, independent Terry Hayes is delusional and independent Alan Caron somehow wandered onto the wrong stage while looking for the policy-wonk convention that was meeting next door.
Instead of debates, each candidate should agree to sit down for two live, in-depth interviews, the first conducted by competent journalists – such as Maine Public’s Steve Mistler or the Portland Press Herald’s Scott Thistle – during which the gubernatorial hopeful would be thoroughly interrogated to elicit something resembling actual information.
The second interview should be set in a bar, with questions posed by random drunks. The candidate would be required to take a swig of beer before every answer.
Would voters pay more attention to those events than debates? Probably not the first one, but that second round could turn out to be the most watched political event in Maine history.
The next change that needs to be made isn’t one for the voters. It’s for political consultants. They need to stop wasting so much of their clients’ money on negative advertising.
There’s loads of research that shows that attack ads work in hotly contested primaries, but not in general elections. That means that about three-quarters of the millions in ad dollars that were spent between June and November were squandered.
Telling people that Democratic congressional candidate Jared Golden was a cannibalistic Satan-worshipper changed nobody’s mind about him. Claiming Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin kicked puppies, stuck pins in babies and listened to Barry Manilow albums had no impact on his image. Repeating these specious claims (except maybe that one about Manilow) ad infinitum on every TV channel did nothing to alter the outcome of the election.
(An aside: I watched a 1950s-sci-fi movie called something like “Attack of the Giant Alien Deer Ticks That Live in Your Underpants” on one of those low-fi streaming channels, and it was interrupted 14 times by the exact same ad proclaiming a particular candidate to be directly responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the attack on 9/11 and the revival of “Murphy Brown.” After eight or nine repetitions, I resolved to vote for that candidate. Was that a stupid way to make such a decision? Yes, it was.)
None of my suggestions are likely to be implemented, so I expect the next election will be much like this one, except with a different set of bad choices. To keep myself from lamenting the fate of democracy, I’ll be watching “Return of the Giant Alien Deer Ticks That Live in Your Underpants” and drinking a lot of beer.
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