The Founders didn't contemplate television.
In the late eighteenth century, before mass media existed, campaigning for elective
office surely involved meeting as many of your constituents as possible, attending town
meetings and shaking hands. Although newspapers and brochures played a role,
the signal to noise ratio must have been far higher than today.
The decline of standards in campaign advertising, the vituperation and personal
attacks, the absence of any substantive debate on principles or beliefs, all point
to several obvious conclusions:
Here is a modest proposal for restoring the health of our political process:
prohibit any campaign spending entirely. That's right, prevent all candidates from
accepting any contributions, or spending one dollar of private, public or personal
money, on campaigns.
- A politician stands or falls on his or her television advertising. It takes a
tremendous sum of money to buy television ads.
- People with personal wealth have a significant advantage over less wealthy
opponents (even incumbents), but are not necessarily smarter, more ethical or better
- A candidate is beholden to the people who contribute to campaigns, and
is likely to carry out their will while in office, to ensure they contribute again
next time. A candidate will oblige significant contributors even in contravention
of the voters' desires, because they have shorter memories than the
- Public financing of campaigns has failed to make this process fairer, because
politicians still need private money to get public money.
- Limits on amounts of contributions are ineffective, because contributions to PAC's
and national party committees allow wealthy contributors legally to circumvent these
- Neither Republicans or Democrats are likely to fix the problem.
Let's force all candidates to campaign via personal contact and the Internet.
Millions of us are on it. Special Web servers and newsgroups could be set up to
handle the candidate's debates-- while including the commentary and reactions
of others as well. For those of us who aren't online yet, the newspapers will
pick up the slack, reprinting transcripts of the net traffic. T.V. has its place too,
carrying debates, not advertisements.
Let's force political campaigns back onto the high ground.