Millions of dollars were spent in the prior election on political ads that saturated everything we watched, listened to, or read. By the time of the election most voters were fed up with all of the candidates. Many found neither of the potential choices for various offices attractive, and actually voted against a candidate based on their perceived position on a single issue. I suspect many of the voters did not have a clue as to the positions or views many of the candidates running for Congress or the Senate had on the economy, foreign policy, public infrastructure, health care, immigration, or others. They based their vote on a single issue or position of that candidate whether it was abortion, immigration, guns or crime.
The reality is our election process is broken. Rather than being a system that encourages the best and the brightest in our society to seek public office, it dissuades them. In religion a famous phrase is that many are called to follow the path, few are chosen. With regards to public office at all levels, the phrase is more like "many are called but few choose to run."
Unfortunately many capable and talented individuals who would make great candidates for public office opt not to seek office. It isn’t that they don’t wish to serve or do not believe they are capable of doing a good job, but rather it is that our campaign process has become like the television show, “Survivor.” Rather than a campaign based on competing ideas and positions, it’s become an obstacle course where potential candidates must navigate around various hazards. An off-the cuff remark or poorly stated answer may be all that is needed to derail one’s chances. One’s past, going back to their teenage years, when many of us made poor choices, is open to scrutiny and criticism despite being 30 or more years ago. People who barely knew you seek their 15 minutes of fame by speaking about you and commenting on your character as well as certain events from that time, which may be inaccurate or shaded in a manner to garner them more attention. Sadly, this process isn’t one where the best candidates emerge but is more like a war of attrition where someone “survives” to serve in political office.
The fact is politics has always been an ugly business but it has become worse with the advent of the internet and social media. Many originally hoped these tools would allow for voters to make more informed decisions. The view was voters would have more access to a wealth of unbiased information about different candidates concerning their background, experience, qualifications for public office, positions on important issues, how they have voted on various measures and legislation and if they currently are an elected official.
Though the internet and social media have allowed voters to be able to research and obtain factual information about candidates and their positions, we have also found these same tools have acted to muddy the water for voters. We find trolls deliberately spread misinformation difficult for many to discern as not being factual. These sites may post scurrilous rumors and untruths about a candidate with no basis in fact. In some cases these outrageous accusations catch fire and not only damage a candidate’s chances of winning public office but also adversely affect their private and professional lives. Unfortunately, these untruths spread over the internet do not merely concern only the candidate but also may be about family members or close friends. Years ago, the media generally viewed family members as off-limits but that understanding no longer exists.
Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution, is credited with saying, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth." His point was people can be fooled into believing something is the truth if they hear it enough. With social media a “lie” or misstatement about a candidate can be shared with thousands, if not millions, in a short period of time. The fact it has been shared so many times seems to be a confirmation to many people the statement must be true. Even when these rumors or lies are debunked, the damage has been done. Like a suspect wrongfully accused of a crime, doubt has been cast on the candidate with many choosing to believe the original untruth. Unfortunately, these unwarranted suspicions about the candidates may follow him or her throughout their lives, much like an individual exonerated of committing a crime may still be viewed as guilty in the eyes of many in our society.
How do we redirect this process? One way is to hold candidates running for office and their parties to a higher standard as to how they run their campaigns. Though many indicate that they have no control or awareness about negative ads emanating from outside issue groups, that’s rarely accurate. Candidates can and should dissuade those supporters from running those ads and ask for them to be pulled. Parties on their part must also elevate the discourse by pushing the issue and dark-money groups to the sidelines, and press for more debates and discussions on key issues rather than something that appeared on a candidate’s Facebook page 15 years ago. The media and those in social media must also do their part. Rather than focusing stories on gossipy tidbits about candidates or seeking embarrassing incidents or statements from long ago, they should focus more time on discussing the different candidates’ qualifications and their positions on key issues facing their constituents.
Greg Fulton is the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 650 companies directly involved in or affiliated with trucking in Colorado today.
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