Thursday, August 26, 2010

Editorial: We're closing in on political accountability

The unnamed Courier editor assigns homework for readers on election candidates, inadvertently illustrating his own narrow and cynical view of elections and candidates.

First, the cynicism. He hawks up a pretty ugly list of descriptors for a campaign season only just begun: mudslinging, accusations, inflated promises, deflated expectations, promise "more," dirtier, wild accusations, nastiness and divisions. He says, in essence, "don't listen to anything the candidates say, as they can't be trusted to act like adults." In how he calls for a "higher standard," he sets the bar really low.

The editor exhorts readers to make a little list, then tells them which issues should be on it: "the economy," secure borders, and illegal immigration, these last two being of course the same. Unfortunately, only two of the many people we will be hiring in this election will have much of anything to do with these vague issues, and they distract from the business of governing. These are the hot-button teevee issues, the newstainment that confounds our social sanity.

Further, while I firmly agree with the editor on the overarching concept of voters educating themselves and doing the homework, it strikes me that as the policy leader of our community's newsprint monopoly, he bears more responsibility that anyone else in building the information infrastructure that allows voters to inform themselves.

The founders of this country built a free press into our national fabric not because they liked reading papers per se, but because they understood that effective self-governance is only possible where the people are fully informed about what their elected representatives are doing. The free press has had its fluctuations in how well it has fulfilled this responsibility, and unfortunately we're in one of its seedier and more feckless swings now. There's little we can do about King Teevee, I'm afraid, but the editor is a member of this community and can be held to account. Continuous positive pressure from readers will push him to raise his own standard for finding and furnishing information that matters in electing representatives of quality.

So yes, voters, do your homework. But don't make it about distractions designed to divert you from substance. Meet the candidates, ask questions to determine how well they understand the jobs they seek, find out about their work ethic, their relative devotion to ideology or practicality, their tendency to rule or serve, their ability to get people working together. These qualities will tell you far more than pat answers on hot-button issues.

And editor, get to your knitting. So far your quality of service to the community around elections has ranged from shallow to blatantly self-serving. Exert yourself, bury your prejudices and try to be the sort of newsman we can all be proud of.


Catalyst said...


I liked this portion of a Gail Collins piece in the New York Times today: "John Boehner is vowing that if his party wins a majority in the House, he will run things differently than either Nancy Pelosi or her Republican predecessor, the evil dictator John Boehner. And of course, Senator John McCain just notched up a triumph in Arizona, running against Senator John McCain."

Steven Ayres said...

The disturbing question has to be why this infantile approach seems to work for a lot of Americans. It seems facile to imagine that these voters are just stupid enough to accept in public life what they would never accept in their personal lives.

There must be some other dynamic at work, and I think it amounts to effective demonization of the other team. If people believe that the people outside their identified group are enemies, they can believe any stupid thing about them and act in ways that would otherwise be considered beyond the pale. This is way easier than competing on the basis of ideas.