Thursday, June 10, 2004

bought myself a liarbird

Today's proposal to Save The World, or at least the American political system, constrains free speech but as a tradeoff spares us from watching a lot of political adverts and wondering who the next President will owe favours to.

The problem seems to be that the electorate has, on the whole, a very short attention span and not much interest in seeking out information on the candidates and their policies. This leads to parties needing to flood the airwaves with lots of short, attention-grabbing ads in the hopes of drawing our eyes away from Law & Order for long enough to consider the future of the country and the free world. Sad, isn't it ? This requires years of fundraising to raise the millions (President Bush has raised over $200 million, Kerry about $117 million) needed to even attempt this race, casts suspicion on those organization making donations, makes the candidates look suspicious for taking it, and leads to the need for massive legislation like McCain-Feingold.

This situation has arisen because of the quite noble idea that Freedom of Speech is a Good Thing. You can say what you want, and that includes the right to give money to whomever you want when it comes to politics. There is also no law requiring citizens to get involved in politics, so the parties have to blanket the country in the hopes of getting our attention. If we paid more attention voluntarily then I suspect the quality of their ads would improve, and they might take longer to say it instead of squeezing their policies into thirty second sound bites.

So my proposal is that political advertising on TV and radio be banned. It is just TOO EXPENSIVE [Kerry spent $18M in June on TV ads] to expect candidates to raise the funds every four years. Each candidate will instead be able to write a 100 page book and create a 2 hour DVD (production budget to be kept to some low figure) that will be delivered to every house in the country and to every library. In this book and DVD they can outline everything they'd do if they're in charge. In return, we the people (remember that?) promise to take some friggin' interest in the country we live in. The press is, of course, encouraged to analyze each set of proposals.

It's not perfect though; here's some of the problems I see with it.

  • No interaction: the candidates don't get to respond to each other's proposals, except perhaps in interviews. This leaves the general public to evaluate each proposal without hearing criticism from other candidates - hopefully the press will be balanced in their analyses....erm...oh dear.
  • The DVD could easily be turned into a propoganda film. People can be easily steered by messages in "movie" form, it's something we're trained to do from childhood. Perhaps some restriction on the format of the presentation?
  • This craps all over the candidate's right to freedom of speech. It's definitely a trade off, so I'll leave it to wiser minds than mine to decide if the benefits outweigh the harm done.

And remember, the American system of voting is not the only democratic way of doing things. Australians are compelled to vote - you are fined $50 if you don't vote, and even the method of counting the votes is different. So there's more than one way to run an election - it's not the End Of Democracy if we make changes to our current system.

And the bugger of it is that since I'm not a citizen I'm not actually allowed to vote :) But it's fun to speculate :)

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