Please let it be over … on Tuesday
October 29, 2004
I’ve spoken to many family members and old friends of all political persuasions over the past few weeks about the seemingly endless and ultimately depressing presidential election campaign, and all of us agree on one point: We can’t wait until the whole ugly thing is over on Tuesday evening.
I should say “almost over” because armies of lawyers are poised to invade Nevada and other “battleground” states to challenge final vote counts.
The fact that both sides are already charging each other with election fraud before the votes are counted neatly depicts the sorry state of the U.S. electoral process, which we hold out as a democratic model to the rest of the world. Fortunately, in Nevada, we’re using electronic voting machines with a paper backup, unlike most other states (think Florida), which don’t provide a paper record of the votes. Of course, that could lead to a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election, which was eventually decided by a deeply divided (5-4) U.S. Supreme Court. Help!
Time magazine sums up the current political situation pretty well in a cover story titled “The Morning After” (the election) by asking a couple of key questions: “After such a venomous campaign, will it be possible to pick up the pieces, bridge the gaps, and reunite the United States? To restore trust – not only in our leaders but in one another?” I hope the answers to these questions are “yes,” but I fear that’s not the case after such a long and nasty election campaign.
In our conversations, family members and friends have asked how we can improve our electoral process in order to avoid such an unpleasant and divisive outcome, no matter who wins on Tuesday. I think back fondly to my experience in Australia about 10 years ago, when the Aussies elected a new prime minister in a process that took about six weeks.
The former prime minister called an election, the major parties chose their respective candidates, and they campaigned for about a month before voters went to the polls. In fact, our Aussie friends and allies re-elected current Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative, to a fourth term in office earlier this month without much fanfare, although Howard took some heat for supporting the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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So I like the parliamentary system of government because it allows voters to change national leaders when they wish, and because campaigns are relatively short and much less expensive than those in the U.S.
Do you realize that we’ve been subjected to repetitive mud-slinging for more than a year and a half, first in the hotly contested Democratic primaries and now in the General Election campaign? And all of this at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars provided by special- interest groups across the political spectrum, in exchange for instant access to key decision-makers.
Just since Labor Day, special-interest groups have spent more than $25 million on the presidential race, with Sen. John Kerry outspending President Bush by more than 4-to-1, and the major candidates are spending another $40 million in this final week of the campaign. Even though many of us thought that the well-intentioned McCainÐFeingold campaign finance reform bill was going to cap campaign spending, it has done just the opposite by permitting so-called “527” organizations, ranging from MoveOn.org on the left to Swift Boat Veterans For Truth on the right, to spend unlimited sums of money on “issue” advertising, which has translated into a steady stream of attack ads.
These ads have been particularly ubiquitous (and obnoxious) in Northern Nevada, now the nation’s No. 1 political advertising market, and Las Vegas is No. 5. No wonder our local TV stations are so happy; the longer the campaign lasts, the more money they make.
Whether it’s wolves on the prowl or an ostrich with its head in the sand, last-minute attack ads assume that we Nevadans are total idiots. Any undecided voter who would make up his/her mind on the basis of such an ad should be barred from the polls on grounds of mental incompetence. In fact, anyone who’s undecided at this stage of the game should stay home on Tuesday on grounds of terminal indecisiveness.
Another highly objectionable aspect of this year’s election is the increasing politicization of the news media, which seem to have great difficulty separating news from opinion. The latest example of this syndrome is the current CBS News/New York Times attack on President Bush and the Republicans for “losing” nearly 400 tons of high explosives in Iraq.
This alleged scoop – “alleged” because some embedded journalists doubt whether the explosives were there when U.S. troops arrived at the site – was breathlessly reported by Ed Bradley of “60 Minutes,” the same CBS program that utilized forged documents to criticize Bush’s National Guard service record. On the other side of the ledger, the Fox News Channel is actively campaigning for President Bush, so there’s enough blame to go around.
In summary, the U.S. electoral process has become far too long and the campaigns far too negative, resulting in what Time magazine called “a nation divided, a nation split over its place in the world, over its basic values (and) over its future direction.” But, as well-known philosopher Rodney King once asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”
I’ll see you at the polls on Tuesday. In the meantime, happy Nevada Day!
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, lives in Carson City.