No Matter Who Won the Elections, It’s Us Who Have Lost

It’s Tuesday afternoon on Election Day as I write this. I won’t know the outcomes of the races until tonight, but I imagine I’ll be happy with some of the results and not so happy with others. Yet regardless of who or what issues win, the country and our state will still be divided on how best to face the future. That part, at least, is not unusual in our history. But this election disturbed me more than any other in my lifetime.
We have endured a brutal campaign season as devastating to our values as Hurricane Sandy was to the lives of those on the East Coast. No longer will we be able to expect well-fought campaigns, with ideological differences argued with honesty and integrity. In this election, more than any other in my life, truth and facts no longer mattered. Candidates, parties, and “Super PACs” used any means they could to influence a win. Lies, half-truths, and clever editing seemed to have become the standard campaign strategy for most. Of course, like always, there were some exceptions. But as our politicians continued to polarize our way of thinking with deceptive arguments, many of us got so angry with the other side that our objectivity turned to contempt and hatred.
According to the non-stop ads we heard during the past month coming out of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, Congressman Chip Cravaack supporters wanted us to conclude that former Congressman Rick Nolan, using his own edited words, wouldn’t walk across the street to vote on important legislation while he was in Congress, but did vote for his own pay raises! And ads from Nolan’s side claimed that Congressman Cravaack, cared only about the fancy lifestyle and perks he had received since being elected two years ago. Is this what a campaign should look like? The candidates spent $10 million on this campaign, only for us, the voters, to realize that they cared only about themselves, with little to no interest in their constituents!
Most of us believe we can filter out this kind of absurd noise. But campaign advisors on both sides almost unanimously agree that negative campaign ads work. That means that many of us can’t filter out the lies from the truth. And that’s what’s so disturbing. If we hear the lies, the hatred, and the demonization long enough, it becomes the reality. That’s how Hitler did it. We’re a long way from Nazi Germany, but we’re breeding a sensationalist culture that makes it OK to say anything, regardless of whether or not it’s true.
Because of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, the source of funds from corporations, and the individuals that control them, appears to be unending. It’s estimated that over $8 billion was spent on our elections this cycle. At a time when both parties acknowledge that something must be done to lower our country’s debt, we have spent $8 billion on political theater—a large portion of which was used to spread lies about “esteemed opponents” nationwide.  What if most of that $8 billion had instead been used to improve the quality of our educational system? Our infrastructure? To create jobs? Help clean up the damage to the East Coast? I know in the whole scheme of macroeconomics $8 billion is not a lot of money for a country like the United States. But there has to be a better use for this money than filling our airways with the crap we’ve had to endure for the past few months.
I’m old enough to remember a time when campaigns were mostly about educating the voters on a candidate’s accomplishments and ideas for the future, with occasionally a respectful, negative statement against the opponent—not the demonizing attacks we see today.
Now that the elections are over, it will be a welcomed relief to once again hear about toothpaste that can make our teeth whiter, laundry detergents that make our clothes cleaner, beers that taste great, and hopefully—hopefully!—a little more respectful discourse from our politicians.
This is a guest post by Steve Machov. After years of revising his son’s school essays, he is proud to say that their roles have been reversed. His son Bradley Machov is now his editor.