The astronomical sum of money being spent on the 2010 midterm elections in America—at least $4 billion, by most estimates—is greater than the entire GDP of many of the world’s countries, including Barbados, Montenegro, and the Isle of Man. (And we’re closing in on Mongolia.) Virtually every man, woman, and child living on American soil has been exposed to thousands of images, slogans, and arguments—mostly produced by expensive ad agencies—designed to get them to adopt a particular attitude toward a candidate or an issue.
Much has been said—and much more needs to be said—about the ability of the rich to buy elections. But let’s face it: if the American people weren’t so gullible and generally uninformed, it would take a lot more than scary music or a slick slogan to sway them. Politicians and their message machines would have to provide actual information, specific action goals, and coherent plans for implementing those goals. Then they’d have to deliver on those promises.
Regular readers of this column know what I think: I think President Obama and his team have delivered on their promises to America, accomplishing more than anyone could have expected—especially bucking a severe and unrelenting headwind of lies and obstructionism from the Republicans in Congress. From ending combat in Iraq to reforming health care to implementing Wall Street and banking reform, the current administration has done much to improve American lives.
I also think it’s appalling that most Americans seem to have already forgotten what the Party of No accomplished on its watch: two wars, general devastation of the economy, confusion about climate change, a $1.3 trillion deficit.
Be that as it may. Jon Stewart (oddly, given his profession) blames the media for America’s current problems. The Tea Party blames politicians and “elitists”—a category that often seems to include anyone who is well educated, well informed, and experienced in public office (unless, of course, they’re Republican). But it’s clear where the real blame should lie in a Democracy like ours: squarely on the shoulders of those—sadly, the majority—who either cast a vote based on a single bias, remaining willfully ignorant about everything else, or don’t vote at all.
For awhile last January, mesmerized by televised images of profound suffering, Americans seemed to care about the people of Haiti. The cameras have moved on, but hundreds of thousands of Haitians still live in crowded, stinking tents, and hundreds are dying of disease. Think what the $4 billion wasted on these midterm elections could do for them.
Never in the history of human civilization has it been so easy to find out what’s really going on in the world. With an open mind and a good mix of media (including books and articles, as well as radio and television), anyone can learn a great deal in a short time about virtually any subject.
Now that so many billions of dollars have been spent to get their attention, what Americans should do is to continue to learn and to care—not because they’re being prodded by advertising to be fearful or angry, but rather just because being informed is the right thing to do.