What Would You Do With $4 Billion Dollars?

73What would you do if someone gave you $4 billion dollars with only one requirement: that it is spent on promoting civic engagement, providing voter education, and encouraging efforts to get out the vote? That’s the amount of money experts are estimating was spent on Tuesday’s election campaigns. And what did we get in return?

Well, let Edward Luce of the Financial Times sum it up:

In no other profession would Americans rank inexperience higher than experience. And in no other pitch would the advertising so badly distort the underlying product.

Such is the combination of America’s deep-rooted political folklore with a year in which incumbents of any kind are even more toxic than usual.

One additional casualty in the past 10 weeks, however, has been the prospect of any serious debate about America’s future – a year when the country particularly needed to evaluate its narrowing options.

Whether quantitative easing works will be central to America’s economic future. No mention has been made of it on the campaign trail.

Nor has anybody thought it worth raising Barack Obama’s deficit commission, which is due to report on December 1. The question of how the US should tackle its mounting national debt has been relegated to a bunch of Punch and Judy bumper stickers that bear as little relation to its fiscal reality as astrology does to astronomy.

The same applies to infrastructure, education, immigration – pretty much anything that touches on America’s future competitiveness: “Literally clueless,” stands as an apt summary on the hustings.

Then there is the matter of whether Americans should be fighting and dying in the “graveyard of empires”.

A month from now, General David Petraeus will issue his report on Mr Obama’s surge in Afghanistan – a critical milestone in a war that America could well be losing.

Again, the debate over AfPak has been notable by its absence. If your candidate pretends he has never been to Washington, there is little chance he will betray a grasp of central Asia.

There was a moment two years ago when Mr Obama promised to revive American democracy as a model for others around the world – the kind of place that can send a man to the moon.

Right now, however, it is not even a model to itself. Mr Obama must be looking forward to the distractions awaiting him in Asia.

I’m not against protesting previous decisions, or being so mad I can’t take it anymore, or throwing the bums out – that’s all part of a vigorous democracy. But a little more serious discussion of important issues would be nice. Here’s my modest proposal to get started: What if we banned negative, slickly produced commercials and required candidates to actually appear – and speak a few paragraphs – in each of their commercials? Not only would it force candidates to think about something to say, we might actually learn what’s on their mind (or not).

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2 responses to “What Would You Do With $4 Billion Dollars?

  1. I don’t know anything about the Financial Times but this commentator clearly understands the problem. What he doesn’t get into is the reason(s) why we have sunk to this pass. Here’s one: as an Italian immigrant running a restaurant said to me recently, “in America it’s all about the money.” At election time, it’s about whose money and the money that matters in America today is the money that makes short-term profits for a few powerful individuals and companies. It’s not in their interest to have a real discussion of the items cited by Edward Luce. There’s money to be made in elective office and the best way to get that is the emotional appeal to people’s hates and prejudices and fears. That’s what’s happened in U.S. elections recently and Bob’s proposal to ban negative advertising will never be adopted because negative advertising works.

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  2. There’s money to be made in elective office and the best way to get that is the emotional appeal to people’s hates and prejudices and fears.

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