There was a time when this country was young. People from different areas of the country sent men that they knew very well to go to the Capitol and represent them and their concerns. These men shaped the country and it didn't matter what they looked like or sounded like. What mattered was what they thought and how they relayed those thoughts through words and actions. For the national campaigns, the men who represented the people of their districts would tell the people what they thought of those running for higher office and the word would spread. Pamphlets would be written either against a candidate or for another and these writings would spread around the country. The pole would vote for electors who would go to the Capitol and cast a vote for who they represented back home. The president and the vice president were not necessarily of the same party. Who ever got the second highest number of votes would be vice president. It was a system that worked well for the time period. There was not mass communication and the decisions made by the voters were based on philosophy, pure philosophy. This system gave us Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe and Madison. All of these men are consistently ranked towards the top when listing the greatest presidents we have had.
Then came the age of the newspapers, the telegraph, and the railroads. The newspapers would cover a candidate and editorialize on them. The men running for high office would make speeches and the text of those speeches would be wired around the country. Newspapers began putting sketches of the candidates so people could see somewhat what these men looked like but it was still the words that got the attention. Newspapers also began to editorialize with cartoons, and the publisher was able to spread rumors about those running for office. Sometimes it had an effect, often it did not. It was the time where Lincoln and Douglass began to debate around Illinios in front of their constituents. The text of these debates were wired around so that there was a definite knowledge of the difference between the philosophies as well as the intelligence of the two office seekers. News would spread fast over the wires and we still sent electors to Washington to cast votes for how the people of each district voted.
The age of the radio then came upon us and for the first time people could hear the words coming from the candidate in his own voice. This, I believe was the first small step backwards in the politics of the United States. There were men who used the radio well. Coolidge and Hoover did not know how to use the radio but Franklin Roosevelt did and he used the radio to get elected four times to the presidency. He was a master at inflection and pacing his words so that the people would be captured by hearing him and what he had to say. During this time a man by the name of Thomas Dewey ran against President Truman and it was partly the use of radio that determined who won. Truman sounded like an ordinary man. He talked with ordinary words that people could understand while Dewey talked in a more somber voice that came off as too serious and not as human as Truman.
The movie theaters then began showing candidates making their peaches and it brought people face to face with how a candidate looked as he talked. It showed them the man's movements that went along with his voice inflections. Towards the end of the Eisenhower era, television made a small impact and people were able to see the great General talk as a country boy run against Stevenson who talked like a college professor using words that many of the people had not heard before. It cost him the election because people could understand Ike, and know that Ike knew what their concerns were. They weren't sure what Stevenson was talking about.
Then came the election of 1960. Television made it's first huge impact. Once again the two candidates debated, but this time it was televised into homes across the nation. Two powerful and intelligent men would face off and in the end, it would be how they were perceived on television that made a difference in one of the closest elections up to that time. Kennedy came off as relaxed, smooth and a well spoken man as well as a handsome man. For Nixon the television was a disaster that would follow him his whole career. Nixon looked tired, he didn't talk as smoothly as Kennedy and he had a look about him that was almost mean looking. It was a match that in Lincoln's time, made have had a different outcome, but in 1960, the new use of television gave Kennedy a clear advantage. Kennedy played to the television better than anyone would until Ronald Reagan came on the scene. Reagan mastered the airwaves and rode the television to two terms in office.
Television then expanded with the arrival of cable TV across the nation. It was a new medium that no one particularly thought about except for one candidate. Bill Clinton realized that he could use cable tv to pin point who is audience would be from night to night. The next step down on the fall of politics came the night that Clinton was on MTV talking to an audience of young people who were just learning about politics as they came of age to vote. The big question that night from the electorate? A girl in the audience asked Clinton what kind of underwear he wore. This was the sign of how things were now heading. Clinton laughed a little and then unabashedly answered the question. That should have been a red flag for what the future would bring in the Clinton administration but it didn't. It was also a sign of the further deterioration of how the electorate was starting to think and the kind of questions that would become newsworthy in a campaign. Clinton used cable TV masterfully to reach different parts of the country and those that would be voting. He used it so well, he was elected twice and survived an impeachment hearing that included charges of perjury to a federal grand jury which is a felony.
After Clinton, the campaigns began to start to stick their toe slowly into the waters of the internet. They became good at raising money using the internet and to get their message across somewhat but the master of the internet didn't arrive until 2008.
Barrack Obama is a master at using all of the tools available to him to run for president. He uses the internet to raise money. You can't hardly go to any internet page without seeing the President and his wife on it telling us what a wonderful person he is. He uses Cable and Satellite Tv to make a connection with the voters. He goes on the talk show circuit where the hosts throw softball questions. The questions aren't as bad as what kind of underwear he wears, but they don't exactly get down to the important issues of the day either. I honestly don't think that people expect him to answer questions about policy when he is on the talk shows. These shows are, after all, for entertainment and he is the best entertainer in politics. He is the first president that does not make amends for going on the campaign trail and to talk shows instead of meeting with foreign leaders as things heat up in the middle east. What amazes me is that he is so very good at being a campaigner, that he gets a pass on this from the press for the most part.
We are a mere five weeks away from the election and I am amazed at the knowledge that I don't have about where each of the candidates stand on certain issues and I probably won't by the time election day roles around.
Campaigning has turned into half truths and lies being tossed back and forth. I don't know what or who to believe anymore. Running for president does not hold anyone accountable anymore and past records mean nothing. For one thing, we don't really know what the past record of these men really are. Things get exaggerated and filled with half truths on both sides of the aisle.
People use the internet now to repeat these lies and half truths to an audience that we haven't had before via social networks on the internet. Citizens are probably more engaged in discussing the election then ever before, but how do we separate truth from lies or exaggerations? The half truths are the toughest because there is a hint of truth to the facts that people can hang on to and make their decisions using.
A friend of mine said that she was cynical when it came to the election. She has been cynical since 1972 more or less. I can understand where she is coming from. I am cynical as well. Cynicism is probably running rampant through out the country when it comes to politics and who can blame us? I know I feel very cynical about both candidates. The sad thing is I will vote come election day. The really sad thing is that most citizens probably vote against a candidate because we don't feel comfortable voting for a candidate. It has truly become the lesser of two evils being elected to run this great country and serious discussions are few and far between.