By Jeff Koopersmith 04/21/16 06:44 PM EDT
A longtime friend, trusted colleague, and oft-consulted expert in the circumstance of this world, Mark Penn, wrote an interesting opinion piece published by The Hill which I assume was to aim his points at those elected officials and staff members who call Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill home — at least a few days a week.
Generally, I agree with Mr. Penn on his fact making yet I was disappointed that he didn’t present additional solutions to the questions planted in his reader’s minds this week.
Mark Penn, and I are uneasy that only one third of the 320 or more million people in the United States are voting – even for our President in November, while the nation well appears to be severely divided.
I write “appears” because most Americans rely on mass media for our information. It is they who tell us how things are, and what things to watch for and watch-out for.
Penn’s most interesting and disturbing thought for this April, 2016 is that perhaps only 10 to 12 million voters (4%) will determine the choice Americans have for our President which is at least touted, if not realistically being, the most powerful office in the world.
Penn cites modern communications, better voter education, and the internet in collision with antique methods of voting in the first instance as lacking. For this and other reasons, he writes that we find ourselves with a democracy “veering off course”. “Veering” was a fine choice to describe almost any democracy on this planet – for they all suffer from the same illnesses and lack of control by the very citizens they are designed to represent but do not.
Too much money in politics, too many insiders, too few men and women who understand or can become cognizant of the concrete complexity of this 21st Century are part of our choosing at all levels of government.
I agree with Penn, but add, that along with better communications and voter education married with the internet and cable television today offer an astonishing, even alarming, depth and sweep of dissemination available not only in towns, but across borders and even into deep space itself. Nothing can be said or done that is not reported within moments somewhere and then spread like wildfire.
It is the mugging of these up-to-the-second powers that are, in my opinion, furthermost to blame for the instant situation we find ourselves in – not only here in America – but worldwide. This is the paying of vast sums to run advertisements which at best are half-truths and at worst – vile lies that provides this punishment of no choice but my choice.
Yet this is the “same old story” is it not? “The masses are asses” – so why burden ourselves about what these masses consider, deliberate, or know of? Another way to state this: “The wisdom of the crowd” which means essentially the same but in reverse.
One need must only look to quote James Surowiecki: “Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise” to make the divide and conquer argument.
Yet, it turns out that crowds can make better decisions than just the few, however to think about the ways to do this requires much study and a set of circumstances which are not available to most audiences – especially crowds.
So let us examine the worst enemies of good decisions by many people – Surowiecki, of course, also studies antithetics like rational failures or bubbles during which a crowd produces very poor judgment, and argues that in these types of situations their cognition or cooperation miscarries because the members of the crowd are also conscious of the opinions of others and commence to emulate each other and conform rather than think contrarily.
Though he gives vetted and scientific proof of crowd-made choices most-of-them are swayed by an influential source. Thus he says that the core reason groups of people irrationally imitate each other is that the system for making judgments has a methodical defect. That defect today is in part the old boys network that yet pretends to exist to measure the wishes of the crowd.
Neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Republican National Committee truly exist to measure the choices of the 200 million of us that could vote.
Surowiecki believes, and I concur, that what happens when the decision making atmosphere is not arranged to accept a crowd, the assistances of individual judgments and private information are lost and the crowd can only do as well as its smartest member.
In essence Mark Penn reprimands us for just this situation, telling us an uncomfortable truth, that we cling to old-fashioned ways that are not now constructed to deal with hundreds or a hundred-million opinions at once.
The current bou-hah-hah over Republican rules as they impact delegates, who, in place of voters, act as the smartest member or the crowd they represent is nonsense since these delegates are not part of this crowd, but privileged in their access to knowledge or experience – or worse – brow-beating and bribery which Mr. Trump believes skews the crowds (voters) wishes.
Mark Penn reminds us:
Of the 226 million eligible voters, about 153 million voters were registered as of the last presidential election — left out of the system are mostly downscale, less educated whites, and disproportionately more Asian and Hispanic voters. Black voters are 73 percent registered, compared with 73 percent of all women and 69 percent for men overall
Notice though that those left out are mostly not as well educated and are from foreign countries. They do not gain their wisdom from study or higher education for the most part – but instead watch television, listen to talk radio, or watch cable television for the “news” which in these months are all heavily loaded with political opinion mixed with a dash of statistics such as “who won” or “who lost” or “who is in trouble” and nothing more.
Mr. Penn points out that that the sources of information, for whatever reason – and there are many — help to create greater division because they focus on smaller selected groups to gain an advantage for a pivot point – made not by an informed crowd – but by people who already are liable to agree with each other’s choices.
One example of this is the comparison, for the sake of argument, between MSNBC and Fox News cable television. Fox News “cherry-picked” its audience by appealing to a certain group of cable television viewers who see themselves as conservative, right-wing, nationalistic, family-oriented, and religious — while clinging to arguments like the Constitution should be construed only in 17th and 18th Century terms – Verbatim – and that the only thing standing between them and whatever horror currently unfolds – is the military – a 15th Century ideal I might offer.
Did Fox News do this to further Republican thought or merely to carve out a piece of the viewing audience that was not being well-served? In a sense it makes no difference, any more than MSNBC catering to Democrats.
Make no mistake – Fox News and MSNBC mirrors and certainly created a mass of asses – who now nip and gnaw at each other’s side when in fact as a whole might be far more moderate and up to finding consensus rather than nonsense.
MSNBC, on the other hand carries the banner of the left, the progressive, the “marchers for peace, equality, and diplomacy” which reflect attitudes often seen en-masse from more highly educated citizens – those with classic university educations found in the 1960’s through the early 1990’s were not designed simply to provide one with a job which it seems they are today except at the highest levels, but supposedly and generally effectively to provide one with the capacity to think. Lessons in thinking include deeper understanding of logic and semantics which seem to be largely ignored today. Almost nothing we read or hear is well thought out and well stated.
And, as Penn argues, presidential candidates have one billion dollars and more to sell themselves. That seems like adequate funding to contact everyone in depth, but in reality it’s only a little more than six or seven dollars per voter when you count internal overheads and salaries, etc.
“Rather than bring the country together, they demonize their opponents to hype turnout among select groups, targeted by race, religion or ethnicity. Fear and division replace hope as the motivating elements behind campaigns, and 90 percent of the advertisements are now negative ads”, writes Penn.
Yes, most political campaigns and, more importantly, all the information about candidates and their ideas are not aimed at swing voters but now put more worryingly, toward exhilarating their base. It seems to make no difference what any candidate or campaign states or airs, and lies have become the weapons of the modern political duel – with cannon not swords.
Mark Penn offers that the system should be reformed from top to bottom to create a true democracy that represents its citizenry and suggests:
1. That newborns receive a voter ID card along with a social security number.
2. That we change the day of voting to weekends, and allow voting from secure facilities: (e.g. ATM machines) while getting rid of early voting because this ignores that last weeks of campaigns can be pivotal.
3. That we should abolish caucuses because they are only open to voters who have the time, and further reminds us that only a quarter of the normal primary turnout occurs with a caucus. I have, for more than a decade, been rewriting a column titled “Who cares what Iowans think” in that same regard but with tongue in cheek.
4. I disagree with Mark Penn here. – He suggests rotating the geographic order of primaries – I suggest that they all occur on the same day perhaps one month before scheduled conventions or, better yet – that primaries are abolished to remove unmovable Party power from the menu. Let all who run be on the ballot though I realize this could end in total chaos should too many file for the same seat – or the oval office.
I also believe that the process has become dominated not only by activists who tend to get involved, but mastered by paid advocates hired to push one candidate or issue that, in fact, forms its own troop of activists that would never have been shaped because of no natural audience.
How much damage to the process has been done by fraudulent claims and cooked-up “issues” which are based on faulty logic or lies, or both and often unfathomably linked to a two century old document – The Constitution – which is, despite right wing claims –a living and breathing document that must reflect the times – not a verbatim and often twisted non-interpretation of exact verses.
On that very issue I recall while in law school the question of money in politics was chic as it is today. Around that time the Supreme Court did not entertain limiting the amount of money in total that could be spent on a federal campaign, but one justice remarked that if the Court recognized, in the future, that funding in excess perverted our doctrinal and heartfelt adoration of “free speech” that such funding could be Constitutionally limited.
Today, because of two or three unreasonably wrong-minded Supreme Court justices we have come to a point where money can never be limited if that constraint also limits “free speech” even though the founders never intended that free speech would include what Adolf Hitler twisted it to become. This was the “Big Lie Theory” of mass thought control that was to be adopted as the norm.
These Justices, no matter who, cannot believe that one could spend 100 billion dollars to convert a Lie to the Truth or a Dictatorship to a Democracy – but such has been done, and is being done every day in America and around the globe under the fraudulent understanding of “free speech”.
The Federal Election Commission wastes all of its time looking at money and the occasional misrepresentation of fact every few years, but the Commission is as much of a scheme as are the people who control the government with outside money – the great adjustment mechanism so often used these days as to twirl into part of American history – not what the oversight should tackle – American hypocrisy via perjury.
It is not enough to have some newspaper owned by one of the wealthiest retailers in history – The Washington Post – to make us smile with its truth-o-meters and such awarding tiers as fibs to Pants-On-Fire statements of candidates or their operatives.
In closing I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Penn that the system is broken to the point of destroying faith in individual rights to vote, be counted and to be heeded as well.
Yet the problem goes far beyond Democracy. Our lives are unjustly overflowing with big lies – one after another, so that now lies are seemingly protected under the Constitutional shelter of free speech.
This is madness, and a huge part and parcel of the depression we suffered in 2000’s when not only Wall Street, but Main Street did business in the trillions based upon falsities so absurd that they were akin to political speeches that have also been the tightly aimed focus of uncontrollable family-room amusement.
Do we recall that in earlier times that businesses could be punished for lying about their products and that news sources were held more closely to the truth by authorities that guarded we simple mortals from outrageous claims?
Do we look toward other nations who do not allow people to simply attack others just because they live on their reputations? We all live on our standings – why is it that film and music stars cannot guard theirs very well? Why is it that I can, when couched in “opinion” call any politician a Nazi, or a Murderer and not be called to the bar to defend that position or pay the price?
No, money does not provide an open visa to lie, cheat, steal, and mind-bend everyone who is too busy, too bored, or too uneducated to follow the politics of their city, state, or nation.
While we attempt to fix the problems Mr. Penn so well puts in front us, we had better also examine just how much any of us can lie or bend the truth merely for profit either in money or position? We might also look at allowing public figures to litigate against those who defame them even though they are well-known.
What kind of solution to malicious lies does our democracy offer us? I say almost none, or none at all. Instead it offers people of wealth who can buy the vehicles of Big Lies as if they were ice cream cones or a cigar the ability to destroy. It is nothing for a billionaire or a 100-billion-dollar corporation to spend a few million or billion to distort the truth while pitching us one against the other.
In the end, everything we do in life is an election.
While our moral and religious leaders with bibles and prophecies warn us of the consequences, those concerns are difficult to measure or even to notice today, yet the masses have absorbed such garbage around the world – that they now sense the game and eagerly play while the rest sit back and shake their heads at the sure outcome.
Yes, Ted Cruz and Bernard Sanders might be the only choice now – but in reality it could be anybody who has enough cash to turn our heads with lies coupled with a false need to choose sides when this is not necessary.
All this will only fester and become shoddier if we continue to ignore truth and spot-on justice.
It might be time to change our moral fiber before we have absolutely no decency at all.