July 14, 2016

Ideas vs. Insults in the General Election Campaign

Gary E. Johnson
Gary E. Johnson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the field of U.S. presidential candidates in our two largest political parties has narrowed, we find ourselves in the strange situation of having nominated two of the least popular candidates we've ever had. Nearly everyone is predicting a particularly nasty general election campaign between the two. The political pundits have been wrong about almost everything so far, but this seems like a sound bet.  

Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to launch personal insults at opposing candidates. He seems to epitomize the style of argument where name-calling is used whenever one is short on knowledge of the facts. And given his pervasive lack of knowledge, this happens frequently. As for Hillary Clinton, it has been surprising to see that her impressive political experience and knowledge have not translated into a coherent message of what she stands for, what her campaign is all about, or why voters should turn out in November to support her. Instead, she appears to be opting for a fear-based campaign aimed at demonizing Trump. Her campaign slogan might as well be "I'm not Trump."

If we do end up with an unusually nasty general election campaign, we can expect our mainstream news media to eat it up and amplify the nastiest bits of it back to us. As they have become increasingly obsessed with ratings and advertising revenue and abandoned even the pretense of investigative journalism or the antiquated notion that they are supposed to serve the public good, we can expect to hear far more about conflict than substance. We have already seen debate moderators, especially during the Republican debates, blatantly attempt to provoke candidates into insulting each other. It is apparent that we will need to look elsewhere for a serious discussion of the relevant issues.

I think this is an extremely unfortunate state of affairs. Regardless of which of the presidential candidates you support (e.g., Gary Johnson, Jill Stein), I suspect you will agree that a reasoned discussion and debate of the relevant issues facing our country is a bit closer to what we need than two unpopular candidates trading insults. I certainly do not consider the personality, temperament, or judgment of presidential candidates to be irrelevant. This is something we should take into account. And yet, a political campaign is also supposed to be an opportunity to discuss relevant ideas. I'd like to hear more about the vision each candidate has for our country and the sort of policies each would like to bring about if elected. Unfortunately, I am not sure we can count on much of our mainstream news media to even attempt to provide such a thing.