Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Sounds Of (Political) Silence

For those of you who might have missed it on Election night, I wanted to share some thoughts that I had on the process after the close of play.  

"Hello darkness my old friend. I've come to talk with you again..."  

These lyrics begin an old Simon and Garfunkel tune that many of my generation are familiar with, "The Sounds of Silence". Written in 1964 as a commentary by Paul Simon on the trauma he felt in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, it became an instant hit for the duo, was released on two different albums (one of the same name), and used in the movie "The Graduate" as well. I use the song here to describe the almost deafening silence to be heard in the aftermath of the election. 

After what seems like years of non-stop news coverage, commercials, and pundits from both sides of the aisle telling us what we thought and felt; it's finally over. Though we seem to say this during every election, never before in history has so much been spent in order to achieve the highest office in the land. Over $1.6 billion has been raised and $1.3 billion spent by the combined efforts of the McCain and Obama campaigns. This amount does not even begin to talk about the additional prodigious spending done at the Congressional, state, and local levels. In spite of the so-called protections that were to be provided by recent campaign finance reform legislation, this amount is nearly double the totals from the 2004 election. 

As a consequence of all of this money, we have been literally bombarded with the babble of non-stop media campaigns on television and radio for (and more often against) candidates at every level this year. As for the behavior of the media itself, never has such a shameful display been made. I will not speak of bias, as many before me have more than adequately dealt with the subject. I will speak instead of an industry not fulfilling its self-appointed obligation. The news media, in all of its forms, is the watchdog of the common man. Its task is to seek for the truth and present it, no matter whom it affects and how uncomfortable it is. In this mission, it has failed miserably during this election. 

Certainly the campaigns can be accused of being complicit in distracting the voter and the press from uncomfortable information, but that's not new and the press should have been able to deal with it. Instead, they have chosen to make themselves complicit in the process. They chose to edit the information revealed to the voting public and when it should be revealed, doing both themselves and the voters a disservice. 

Because of this media complicity, perhaps more than ever before, campaigns have taken on an air of advertising. We select candidates in the same way that we buy cars and toothpaste. No more are we asked to decide on an elected representative based on their long-standing beliefs, their views on critical subjects, and their vision for the future. 

Today instead, we are fed a steady diet of slick campaign slogans, soundbites, and fabricated heroic images. Neither major party is immune to the process and its abuse to gain power, while attempting to silence dissenting voices (and especially that of those not of the two major parties). Both work to hire the best and brightest experts to take advantage of the bastardized process that they have created in a flagrant restriction of the very free speech they are supposed to protect.  

While the election of 2008 is now over, we are going to have to examine this process more closely going forward. We must decide as a people what free speech is, and who will get to set the rules by which it is governed. In the meantime, let us take a small break in the process. We, like the candidates, have run a long race. We deserve a chance to rest and recover our breath. And in the peace and quiet of the moment, as we wait for the dust to settle in the election of 2008, we can all enjoy the "sounds of silence". 


Mariner said...

The man at the helm for the next four years agreed to public financing and the accompanying restrictions, until Gates, Buffett, and Ophra came by with their checkbooks. A bit like Sarah Palin wearing blue jeans in Alaska until she was introduced to Saks Fifth Ave. A moment of silence for the death of altruism is called for.

Tim Higgins said...

You have taken a different tack than I have in your interpretation, and I would tend to think that this requires a different tune.

May I suggest the old Peter, Paul, and Mary song, "Blowing in the Wind".