What sounds worse than making cold telephone calls trying to sell stinky used cowboy boots for $500 each?
Some political candidates would say that at least it could be more amusing than “dialing for dollars,” a necessary evil known as fundraising.
With four months until the midterm congressional election, campaigns are focused on money.
But it’s also the season to take “name recognition” into the next campaign phase, “building a brand.”
We’re starting to read news based on press releases designed to spur an opponent into a response. The press secretaries who write the releases which turn into published news have persuaded reporters that the subject is real news, and could spark a news cycle shootout between the candidates.
Conversely, a press release is sometimes released because a reporter inquired about a candidate’s position.
The candidate who draws first is usually aiming at an on-the-record statement which could be clumsy, misleading, unpopular, or – prize of prizes – stupid. If none of those occur, revealing different policy positions is also seen as worth the effort.
In Idaho, the state budget was the theme of the season’s first such contest between incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, Republican, and Democratic challenger Keith Allred.
Using his official office as governor – as opposed to herding it through the campaign chute – this week Otter published “Year-End Budget Numbers Show Governor, Legislature Acted Responsibly,” which outlines his view that the drastic cuts the legislature approved are the right decision.
Allred, a conservative Democrat with a Ph.D. in mediation, returned fire.
The next day, the Idaho Statesman’s editorial page editor, Kevin Richert, along with newspapers and bloggers around the state, wrote about the exchange.
That one-two-three pattern is so classic that it can be easily spotted in campaigns dating back to the founding of our country. But the modern news cycle moves so quickly that it’s no longer the one-two-three step of a waltz; it’s a press release polka. In fast forward.
The dangers of the dance are complex, but the most obvious one is easily understood: More and more, voters know when they are being manipulated, which has led to a culture of cynicism.
It actually makes a lot of sense to have a certain amount of cynicism about government. Some politicians are idiots, others lie to us, and yet others are on the take from special interests. Some administrations are blinded by ideology and pursue policies that are absurd and damaging to the public interest. You should not trust these people or take what they say at face value. However, while some politicians and some administrations are worthy of scorn – the enterprise of democratic government itself is not. And that is the problem with political cynicism in America today: it has gone too far. We have become too cynical about government as a political enterprise and this makes us unable to see just how valuable this institution really is. We focus on our disappointments with particular politicians and policies and turn a blind eye to the broader accomplishments of government.
But a deeply cynical electorate is harder to persuade, which leads to more and different public relations practices. And that circle, though under strain, has yet to be broken.