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The Power of Phony Issues

You can become, or remain, President for all the wrong reasons.

by Barnabas
September 22, 2004

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Senator John Kerry faces substantial obstacles in his bid to unseat President Bush, with voters saying he has not laid out a case for why he wants to be president and expressing strong concern about his ability to manage an international crisis . . In contrast, half of the registered voters said Mr. Bush had offered a clear vision of what he wanted to do in a second term. - "Bush Opens Lead Despite Unease Voiced in Survey," by Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder, New York Times, September 18.

When I began my list of phony campaign issues back in March, I did not fully appreciate the actual influence they would have on this campaign, or the extent to which a majority of Americans are willing to be misled in order to stay in their comfort zone. We see that happening before our eyes. For half the registered the voters to believe that Candidate Bush has offered a "clear vision" of what he wants to do in a second term is evidence enough of this tendency. The other half of registered voters, of which I am one, believe that what Mr. Bush has offered is moonshine, not clear vision. (In dim light, things are not what they appear; and this administration is expert at dim lighting.)

This doesn’t leave Mr. Kerry off the hook. If he hasn’t the skill to take the presidency away from a candidate with the miserable record of an incumbent who has thrown him fat pitch after fat pitch, he doesn’t have the skill to be President. If the Democrats, in fact, cannot take the Presidency under these conditions, the question is whether it is time to replace the Democratic Party with one that knows what it is doing. The Democrats still have time to show that they know what they are doing, but it’s running out. They had better get at it.

You may not agree that all my phony issues are phony - The Gay Marriage Amendment (March 3), Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (March 10), Negative Campaigning (March 17), The Experience of Edwards (July 14), The Issues (July 28), and The Pet Goat (August 11) – but if you don’t have your own list you haven’t been paying attention.

I would rather the major political parties not try phony issues on the campaign trail, in order to test the gullibility of the voting public; but they are going to keep doing it because the pay-off is so big if it works. If it doesn’t work, they can ditch it fast. Given that fact of political life, I very much blame the other party for not blasting the sitting duck out of the water, or not pounding the fat pitch so far over the fence that the ball is never found, or not booing the bad act off the stage. Choose your own metaphor. I also blame the Media for treating empty issues as real ones. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t so much.

Most of all, the fault is the public’s. Until this latest poll, my trust in the common sense of the voting public ran deep; now it is running shallow. A possible outcome to this campaign is the election of a candidate for all the wrong reasons, on the basis of phony issues. By allowing a make-believe campaign, we will end up with a make-believe President.

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Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
September 22, 2004
I agree with every point - my only difference is that I have never really had all that much confidence in the public. Slogans and visceral prejudice dominate over competence and record as the key to selecting the world's most powerful office-holder. Had the public been doing its job, Bush would have been forced to resign over a year ago.

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