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Come November 8th: Ending This Bizarre Campaign Season

October 24, 2016

The debates (if you want to call them that) are over. Fact- free and issue-free to a degree rarely seen in modern American politics, these debates gave American voters little new information for making a decision upon for whom to vote for President this year – save perhaps intangibles like personality and fitness to serve in the office.

That this campaign has been so negative and lacking in policy discussions pertaining to the issues uppermost on the minds of the voting public, along with the extremely low favorability ratings of both major party nominees, could well usher in an extremely low voter turnout. Rather than vote for the lesser of two evils, or a third party candidate who can only look forward to single-digit percentages of the overall vote, many will feel voiceless and powerless to affect the outcome in any event and choose to not waste their time waiting in line to cast a meaningless vote.

There are still two weeks until the official election day (people in some states have already participated in early voting). Opportunity for new revelations such as the Wikileaks publishing of hacked emails from Clinton and her campaign staff and/or new tapes illustrating the despicable nature of some of Trump’s misogynistic, racist and/or generally unsympathetic view towards people who disagree with him or don’t measure up to his standards may add yet more chaos to the mix or develop new momentum for one or the other candidate. The opportunity for truly enlightening discussion of issues, policies and future vision for what a Clinton or Trump administration would accomplish was pretty much squandered on the circus performances (my apologies to real circus performers) that the three Presidential debates and the sole VP debate degenerated into.

Here in PA, a designated swing battleground state important to both candidates, a curious campaign has developed. In previous campaigns, many yard signs have littered the landscape for upwards of a month prior to the election. Avid pedestrian that I am, I can walk for miles and see maybe one or two for each candidate. We also have a key Senate race where Democrats hope to pick up a Republican seat. Watching the airwaves, one would conclude, incorrectly, that the only contests in this area are for President, Senator and State Attorney General. The local TV market includes three Congressional districts and numerous state legislative districts. All the commercials have been for the three races stated above.

One interesting point to bring up concerning the Presidential and Senatorial candidates is that all four are millionaires. How oligarchic has this country become? Clinton’s campaign ads are from both her own campaign funds and Super PACs. They tend to be well-produced and often let Trump do his own talking – or rather put his foot in his mouth. Trump’s campaign has put out some ads of its own, but much of the pro-Trump stuff is produced by the NRA, which definitely limits its scope to gun rights. The Senate ads are significantly more substantive than the presidential ads, but they do tend to concentrate on bashing their opponents as millionaires.

Congressional seats in this state have been gerrymandered in such a way as to make most of them non-competitive. Of the three in this TV viewing area (two R’s, one D), I would suspect that very few people even know the names of the non-incumbent candidates. Where in past elections, airwaves would be filled with campaign ads and lawns replete with signs for all the contestants, I’ve seen or heard none this year. Lawn signs are garbage, to be sure, but at least they get people’s names out there. This year – nothing. Forget legislative races, ballot issues or volunteer door-knocking. Nada.

It’s a sad commentary on the American political scene when even a Presidential race is generating so little enthusiasm in the population at large. True, the campaign has been dominated by personality rather than substance, but who is to blame for that? A media hungry for ratings gold and political advertising revenue? A campaign finance system that allows corporations and wealthy individuals to donate nearly limitless funds to back the candidates most willing to do their bidding? A voting public so demoralized by a stagnant economy and gridlocked government that the light at the end of the tunnel seems unattainable? Some of each?

People need to vote, in my view. We need to elect people to all levels of government who will represent our own best interests. If there is nobody on the ballot who fits the bill, we need to do a better job of finding people who do and persuading them to run. If Congress and State Legislatures refuse to do their jobs (as certainly our Congress has done for most of the past six years), their members need to be replaced by people who take their duties and responsibilities more seriously. There are times when obstructing or delaying action is appropriate, but making that tactic a standard response to getting anything done to in any way make constituents lives better or even just more tolerable is unacceptable in a totalitarian dictatorship, let alone a country that prides itself on its democratic principles.

In my view, we need to return sanity to campaign finance. Making Congress into a virtual millionaires club does nothing to make it a representative body in this or any other country. Turning one-person-one-vote into one-dollar-one-vote is not fair to the vast majority of the American people. Skewing the political process in this manner, along with making gerrymandering the law of the land has landed us in a world of incessant war, miserable poverty for millions, and inequality of all sorts throughout our society.

The GOP control of Congress has led to unprecedented gridlock and the inability to do anything of significance to improve the lives and enhance future prospects for the vast majority of people living here. Voting in Hillary Clinton to replace Barack Obama while leaving the status quo intact in Congress will not improve the situation. Allowing that Congress freedom to pursue its reactionary agenda favoring the wealthy and corporations over average people at every turn – or even worse – under Donald Trump certainly would not bode well for the country as a whole, or the world at large for that matter.

We also need to spend more money fixing things and less destroying them. That includes ending the nonsense of the death and destruction the US has been raining on much of the world this entire century. Presidents of neither party have seemed interested in waging peace since before the first Gulf War. Even the President who won the Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term has not spent even one day of his administration leading a country at peace. Whereas adding to the debt in order to meet the needs of its citizens is anathema to most of our elected political leaders, they’re always willing to do so in order to deal death and destruction upon foreign lands and peoples by force of arms.

Turning our government around to serve the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few needs to happen sooner rather than later. Leveling the playing field by controlling campaign fundraising and spending and creating electoral procedures that prevent undemocratic control of legislative bodies is essential to this process. Vote when elections are held, but hold those elected officials accountable for all that they do or fail to do while occupying those offices. Letting them take lengthy paid vacations when important work remains unfinished or re-electing them when they refuse to vote on judicial nominees or pass a budget only encourages them to keep up the bad work.

Whomever wins on November 8th will need careful watching – both by we the people and each other. Congress needs to do its jobs of passing budgets, confirming executive appointments and declaring war (or at least acting as more than just a rubber stamp for executive military action) in addition to passing legislation regulating corporate and individual activity to preserve individual and collective rights for ALL Americans. Both Congress and the President need to serve all of the people, not primarily those with wealth and born to privilege. But they won’t do so unless we make sure they know their continued service in those positions of power depends upon their vigilance in serving us wisely and compassionately.

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