The Election Circus


Send In the Clowns


by Michael Chester


With this year’s crucial election less than a week away, it has become painfully clear that the winners and losers will be decided by the least qualified voters. Misdirection, lies and deceit are nothing new in politics, but have recently been elevated to an art form.

The electorate is divided into three main groups and subdivided into a few minor ones. About one third of the voters are hard core Republicans and one third hard core Democrats. It does not matter who their party nominates, they will vote for him or her. If the Republicans ran Hitler and the Democrats ran Stalin, each would be guaranteed one third of the vote simply by their party affiliation. The remaining one third is who decides those elections that are legitimately run. This third breaks down into left and right leaning people, those who choose based on the candidate, not the party, the one issue voter (abortion, gun control, etc.) and the totally clueless. The clueless are the real targets of all of the campaigning, political ads, and the so called debates. Winning over the “low information voter” is the key to victory.

Every four years we are subjected to what are euphemistically called “the presidential debates.” Any similarity between what goes on at these events and a real debate is purely coincidental. If you want to read what a real political debate is like, read transcripts of the Lincoln – Douglas debates when they were running for the Senate. What are now being presented are, at best, a joint press conference and that is being generous. The formats are negotiated between the campaigns; the “moderator” is given a list of acceptable questions and the candidates rehearse the answers. Even the supposed town meeting format is carefully controlled. They get a group of people who claim to be undecided. By that point in the campaign, if you are truly undecided, you are an idiot. The candidates have laid out what they want the public to believe about their plans and those positions are not likely to change. (Romney is saying different things now, but that is just for show)

If you believe that Obama is a Marxist Muslim from Kenya, nothing he can say will change that opinion. Likewise, if you believe that Romney got rich by laundering drug money for Mexican cartels, you are unlikely to suddenly support his candidacy. The “debates” are treated like sporting events by the media with points given for “zingers,” style, and wit. These “ad libs” have been carefully crafted by writers and tested on focus groups prior to being said by the candidate. (One of the more famous quips was made by Ronald Reagan when asked if age should be a consideration and he said that his opponent’s youth and lack of experience should not be held against him. He then grinned that he got the line out correctly. His speechwriters knew that the question would be asked as that was constantly being mentioned in the news and he was given the canned response which he delivered convincingly) By these criteria, Jay Leno or David Letterman should be president.

Very little attention is paid to the content of what the candidates say about the real issues and only the Republican and Democratic candidates are allowed to appear, thus limiting any real content from being presented. There are many sports references: scoring points, hitting a home run, rematch, etc. It is more of a game with a winner and loser, not a platform to learn anything about the candidates’ positions.

After the first “debate” this year, it was generally agreed that Barack Obama had lost and Romney’s ratings in the polls went up. No one even mentioned what the candidates had actually said, only the enthusiasm with which they said it. As far back as I can remember, the incumbent always “loses” the first “debate.”  This is understandable as the challenger has had years to perfect his message and the incumbent has been busy being president. Reagan looked tired and distracted. Bush 41 kept looking at his watch like he would rather have been anywhere else. Clinton was an exception as he loved to hear himself talk. (His aides said that the unofficial slogan for the campaign was, “Don’t stop speaking until tomorrow.”) And Bush 43 also appeared bored and lost.

By the third farce, both Obama and Romney seemed to be in agreement about foreign policy with only small differences in what they said. They both kissed the cheeks of Netanyahu, though Obama kissed the upper, while Romney kissed the lower. I am not sure how much of what was said was what the candidates actually believe and how much was meant to suck up to powerful interest groups. (AIPAC) Anyway, it was a disgusting display.

While the presidential race has received the most attention nationally, there are many regional candidates and issues on the ballot. One third of the Senate and all of the House seats are to be decided. Many states have gubernatorial elections, state representatives, state and local judges, mayors, and there are many proposals on the ballot in several states. In terms of actual power, your vote is more important in these than the presidential election.

Michigan, where I live, is not considered to be a “battleground state” in the presidential election, so we have not been bombarded with a lot of ads for the actual Obama and Romney campaigns, though there are still the “Citizens United” ads. These are the ones not officially approved by the candidates so they can claim that they had nothing to do with “such a horrible ad.” You have probably seen an ad that goes something like this:

Congressman Richard Head is running for reelection.  An ad appears.

Opening scene – a photo of a field full of goats looking scared.

The voice-over – Decent, honest, law abiding citizens know that it is wrong to have sex with goats.

Switch to a photo of Congressman Head, preferably looking crazy.

Voice over goes on – Someone should tell this to Dick Head. Call Dick Head now at 1-800-BIG-DICK and tell him that it is wrong to have sex with goats.

Nowhere in the ad do they actually say that he is doing this, but people only listen to part of what is being said and hear “Dick Head has sex with goats.” This example is, of course, a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.

This type of ad is closely related to “push polling” where someone calls you to take part in a “poll” and proceeds to ask leading questions. One of the better examples of this type of negative campaigning took place in the Republican primary of 2000. John McCain had won a couple of primaries and the Bush campaign needed a knockout (another sports metaphor) In the South Carolina primary, voters received calls that asked the question: “If you found out that John McCain had an illegitimate niggra son, would that make you more or less likely to vote for him?”  McCain certainly is no saint, but to the best of my knowledge, he does not have an illegitimate child, niggra or otherwise. What he does have is an adopted Vietnamese son who has darker skin than the rest of the family. This tactic worked because pictures of McCain with his family had appeared in the papers and this was done in an area with a high concentration of evangelical Christians who view illegitimacy as a severe sin and that this sin occurred with a “mud person” only made it worse.

In Michigan we have six statewide proposals on the ballot this year and they seem to dominate the local advertising. Proposal 2 seems to provoke the strongest ads for and against. First a bit of recent history. In 2010, the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin all elected Republican governors. Rick Snyder of Michigan got elected with a strong majority of the senior citizen vote. As a way of thanking them, one of the first things he did was to push a bill through the legislature making pensions taxable on state income tax. He cut state benefits to schools and used this savings and the new tax revenue from seniors to cut taxes for his business friends. The tax increase on seniors was very quietly pushed through. I heard that it had been proposed, but then did not hear anything until I got my January pension check and saw a deduction for state income tax.

Though historically these three states are strongholds of unionized labor, the three governors set out to bust the unions.  In Wisconsin, Walker has been fairly successful in his union busting and he has weathered a recall attempt. In Ohio, union busting legislation was passed by Governor Kasich, but last year the voters of the state overwhelmingly overturned that law in an unusual display of populism and civic activism.

In Michigan, Snyder and several legislators have been attempting to pass this type of legislation and rather than waiting for the law to be passed and overturning it like Ohio residents, supporters of collective bargaining got proposal 2 put on the ballot. If passed, this will not change any existing contracts or force anyone to join a union. It simply states that the state cannot pass a law that prohibits collective bargaining. I think that those campaigning against its passage have set a new standard for lying. All campaigns involve misleading statements and exaggerations, but in this case they simply made things up. For example their ads say that if passed, schools will have to hire child molesters as bus drivers, teachers can be drunk at work and there will be no standards as to who gets hired. Of course, it says none of this and these things will not happen but the campaign has planted seeds of doubt in the gullible and those who vote based on who talks to them last.

We also have another odd election phenomenon. Our state Supreme Court justices are nominated by the Republican and the Democratic parties and then appear on the “non-partisan” portion of the ballot. Ads are run by the parties supporting their candidates or degrading their opponents, but these ads are “not authorized by any candidate.” I guess that this is supposed to create the illusion of a neutral court system. If you ask people what professions are the least trustworthy, two of the top picks are politicians and lawyers. They rate somewhere below used car salesman in integrity. However, if you have a lawyer who becomes the ultimate politician and runs for judge, he suddenly is seen as a pillar of “truth, justice, and the American way.” Perception is everything.

The other major issue which may potentially tip the presidency one way or the other is voter manipulation. In Florida, there are already reports of people going door to door in areas where there are a lot of seniors saying that they are there to collect their absentee ballots. This is a complete fraud as no voting official goes door to door. In other states large billboards have been erected in minority neighborhoods warning of severe penalties for illegal voting. This is a blatant attempt to stifle the minority vote, but, so far it has not been very effective. Requiring photo ID sounds reasonable at first glance, but for many older people, particularly minorities, it is difficult to get copies of birth records that would be required to get state ID. Again, this is an attempt to limit the voters that would vote the “wrong way.”

They have made a big deal about voter fraud, but in reality, the number of ineligible people who attempt to vote is miniscule, under 50 out of 100,000,000 votes cast in the last presidential election. Real voter fraud occurs at a higher level with bogus programming of voting machines and keeping select groups from voting. I suspect that with the storm damage on the east coast, some selected voters will be told that the election has been moved to a later time, when it hasn’t.

Another factor that might affect the outcome in close votes is voting for a third party candidate. In 1992, Ross Perot took votes away from both sides, but probably took more from Bush 41, ensuring a Clinton victory. It definitely made a difference in the 2000 election. Ralph Nader took virtually all of his votes away from Al Gore and if those people had voted for Gore, the election would not have been close enough for the Bush schemes to be effective.

With the two major candidates being less than desirable to many, there is a strong temptation to say that there is no difference and voting for a third party candidate to make a “statement.” As much as it may pain you, the next president will be Obama or Romney. Accept that reality and if you can’t think of a positive reason to vote for one of them, vote for the one who you find the least offensive.

With the owners of the largest provider of voting machines and voting software endorsing  Mitt Romney, you have a situation that, at best, looks suspicious. With computers now tabulating most of the US voting, it is a simple matter to rig an election, especially if it is already close. The following video shows a computer programmer describing writing code to rig a voting machine. It is quite informative.


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Michael Chester is retired from his career in industrial technology. After graduating from college, he taught this subject until deciding that he preferred doing the job himself more than teaching it. At various times during his career, he has designed, built, installed, and repaired industrial manufacturing machinery. His specialty was in electrical and electronics controls. After retiring, he concentrated more on his hobby of cooking and attended one of the top culinary schools in the US. Mike competed in bass fishing tournaments for several years, but had to leave the sport due to an injury. As a certified barbecue judge he gets to taste some of the best BBQ in the country and help select the winner. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it. He lives with his wife of over 30 years, has 3 adult children and 2 grandchildren.