[Note: Today is the final post of our annual Guest Blogger Series. Please remember: the Intramuralist may or may not agree with the opinion(s) expressed. The goal is respectful articulation.]
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas engaged in a series of seven debates, each of which lasted three hours. Today candidates running for office state their case via 30-second commercials and 140-character tweets.
Whether it’s because of technology or because we just live busier lives today, there is a perception that voters have shorter attention spans than they did 150 years ago. So just like marketing for other items, political advertising has become more concise and summarized. That approach may have positive short-term effects in terms of winning elections, but there can be negative long-term impacts. Over-simplified campaign slogans can foster misperceptions on broader policy issues.
Even though I am an active member of the Republican Party, initially I was not a fan of George W. Bush. The reason was because as a candidate he referred to himself as a “compassionate conservative.” I suspect that phrase was the brainchild of Karl Rove meant to maximize electoral success. From that perspective, the motto was effective. It appealed to independent voters who wanted fiscal responsibility but believed Democrat claims that Republicans were cold and heartless.
To me, though, conservatism is compassionate. To put the two words together implied a paradox and reinforced the Democrat talking point. Two generations of the welfare state has institutionalized dependency for a large segment of our society, something I don’t find to be very compassionate. It’s too bad that important point got pushed aside in an alliterative pursuit for votes.
This year, given the fact that many Americans are out of work or underemployed, the topic on many voters’ minds is jobs. Rightfully so, most politicians are emphasizing their intent to improve the employment situation. Unfortunately, many candidates (Republicans and Democrats alike) are saying that they are going to “create jobs.”
Voters may react positively to such a pledge. Yet, there’s one problem as I see it: government can’t create jobs. It’s a significant difference of opinion, and when Republicans say they will create jobs, they are ceding to the Democrat viewpoint about where jobs come from.
A job will only exist when the time put in by an employee enables value to be added to a product or service. That’s the true source of jobs (and wealth, by the way)… individuals acting freely to develop things that other people want or need. All revenue that the government has comes from the private sector, not the other way around.
Government does have the power to prevent jobs from being created, through excessive regulation and high taxes which discourage entrepreneurs from taking risks. Unfortunately, “I will destroy fewer jobs” doesn’t go well on a bumper sticker.
Political consultants should give voters more credit that they can absorb more information than a sound bite. They should provide candidates more opportunity to fully explain the ideas behind their positions.
To get elected, candidates need to obtain a majority of votes, so there is a natural tendency to react to public opinion. However, sometimes what we need instead is changing public opinion. What we need is leadership.
[Intramuralist Note: My “little brother” — although he towers approximately a foot overhead — now shares with us as the State Senator from Indiana’s District 24. Way to go, wise bro… well done.]