Thursday, October 21, 2010

How Political Campaigns Should Be Run

In that I generally lean libertarian, this may surprise you but, observing the obscenely expensive, obfuscatory political campaigns reminds me how much we need 100% publicly funded campaigns. My model:
  • Length: two weeks.
  • One or two debates, broadcast on TV, archived on YouTube. Debates would be designed to push the candidates off their prepared message and to truly engage. If a debater isn't directly answering the question or otherwise being obfuscatory, the moderator would interrupt, calling the debater on that, and insisting on a direct answer.
  • At the end of the debate, still on camera, each candidate would participate in a simulation: running a brief meeting with mock legislators on an issue of the day. Perhaps retired legislators could be used for the simulation.
  • A neutral body (for example, C-Span) would create a candidate summary consisting of his/her voting record and platform on key issues. That would be mailed to all registered voters and posted on a website such as
I believe that model would yield better candidates because they wouldn't have to run a four-year, press-the-flesh, be-beholden-to special interests campaign. Also, the public would get a far better sense of what the candidates would be like as our leaders than with our current commercial-, special-interest-, and speechifying-driven process.

What do you think?


F.S. said...

I love this idea:

At the end of the debate, still on camera, each candidate would participate in a simulation: running a brief meeting with mock legislators on an issue of the day.

It gets away from the idea, pushed by all campaigns, that a single person can change things in a vacuum. Not the way politics really works. We could maybe even use retired legislators who can realistically represent the challenges (political and structural) that the candidates will encounter in the real world. (That is, if politics can be considered the real world!)

Thanks for thought-provoking ideas, as usual.

Jeffrie said...

The amount of political ads I've received in my mailbox in the past 2 weeks, urging me to vote one way or another, is appalling. They go directly into the shredder. I don't even glance at them. When it comes to getting your vote, the "green" movement goes right out the window and into your mailbox.

When one of those political ads comes on TV, saying how bad the opponent is, I change the channel.

And I don't even bother watching the debates. More often than not, they're skewed in favor of one of the candidates instead of being fair all around.

It would be far more bearable if we only had to deal with the campaigns for 2 weeks, and nobody had any more political clout than another. Your idea, plus getting rid of gerrymandering, might level the playing field a lot more.

Max Marty said...

Sounds like the idea is worth a try. If we still had a federalist system and could try this idea out in an inconsequential place like Wyoming =\

I guess we could try the idea on a seastead someday.

Jeff said...

I just got back from a couple of days in Nevada. If you only get your political news from the television ads (and sadly, I think this is the case for many), you'll know that:
1) Harry Reid is an insane radical who has become America's richest man by taxing everything from bathroom usage to air intake.
2) Sharon Angle is an insane radical who wants to immediately shut down Medicare, Social Security, public schools, fire departments and the IRS, then take all the savings and hand them directly to the wealthy.

Forget the concept of civil discourse. Today's campaigns are based solely on one strategy: How far can we push and twist the opponent's position so that what we say about them is not, technically, libelous.

No wonder so many people don't vote at all.

Seraphim said...

Try it first with your own community, or better yet, with organizations over which you have significant influence, such as the National Organization for Men (e.g., officer elections).

If it works, then go from there.

My own opinion, for what it's worth: It's better for people to try to get to know their representatives and elected officials personally. Not everyone has time for that; more precisely, not everyone makes time for that. You get what you pay for -- if you invest a superficial level of time and energy, you get superficial results.

Personal contact from a candidate or a candidate's volunteer is still the most effective means of getting people to actually vote for a candidate (by far). But it takes people who actually care enough to get involved.

Marty Nemko said...

I do not believe that the few minutes of pressing the flesh, with the candidate being as inoffensive as possible reveals anything close to what I propose. And requiring such flesh-pressing discourages most good candidates from running.

Seraphim said...

But Marty, the superficial "flesh pressing" is exactly NOT what I'm advocating. If anything, public officials are underwhelmed by the amount of feedback they get from their constituents. If you show up a few times at a local Democrat or Republican Club, or a Tea Party or Coffee Party, you can meet the officials and candidates face-to-face and have a chance to discuss issues with them. Once you've done that a few times, you can easily get to know them on a first-name basis. And then, when you call them, they will gladly take your call, and discuss issues with you.

If you have the kind of candidates who refuse to talk with the "common people", then you can get other candidates elected. And it all starts by getting personally and directly involved.

I'm an introvert and none of that comes naturally to me, but it's important enough to me to make the effort. How else can we expect real change?

I admit that a scheme like yours has a certain appeal. The politicians game the current system for all its worth. But don't you think they'd game your proposed system as well? Personally, with your proposed system, I think whoever could master the "sound bite" the best would win.

Voting records are already available but hard to understand unless you are familiar with the bills that were voted on. I don't remember what it was like in California, but in Arizona we get a 150-page summary of the new ballot initiatives every election from the Secretary of State. Even for someone actively involved in politics like myself, it's not easy to read through all that. And that's just for a dozen ballot initiatives, let alone the scores of bills that our legislature voted on this last session.

There are groups that try to summarize the bills and do a kind of scorecard based on various issues. But those scorecards aren't always very meaningful or useful. For example, I know a state legislator who missed an important vote because of a medical emergency; he was even willing to suffer through his pain and vote for the bill, but his fellow legislators told him to go ahead to the hospital, since they were assured to already have enough votes to pass the bill in question. So he left. But on the scorecard it showed as a "no vote", and the commentary implied it was because of his lack of commitment to the issue. The only way you can really find out about stuff like this is to actually talk to your legislators and ask questions.

Thanks as always for your interesting and insightful ideas. I just happen to respectfully disagree with this one. :)

And don't forget the etymology of "politics". "Poli" means "many", of course; and "tics" means "blood sucking parasites". Keep up the vigilance! :)

Marty Nemko said...

The problem is that it takes too much time to get to know all the operatives and sufficient numbers of voters. High quality people would consider that a poor use of time and if it took that to win, would not.

Regarding the 150-page voter pamphlet in Arizona, that's the problem. It must be a 2-pager, crystal clear to the average voter.

Anonymous said...

To Jeffrie:

I second your opinion on political ads: Liberals who run on green issues and claim to be better stewards of the environment than conservatives litter the landscape with political signs and fill our mailboxes with flyers. Can you imagine how many trees and how many barrels of oil went into all those?

If elected, I will ban political advertising :)

Stephen said...

I've often thought along this line, though I think there should be more than one or two debates. Running so few debates would only showcase the abilities of the better speaker without being able to delve deeply into the subject matter.

Instead, why not host a series of debates, with each one focused on a single issue? There could be one for the economy, one for education, one for immigration, etc...By forcing politicians to go in depth on a single issue, it will allow voters to get a much better idea of what each candidate plans.

Moreover, candidates from third parties should be given the same consideration as candidates from the major parties. Either let all parties who can summon a requisite amount of support to participate in the debate, or designate four or five spots for candidates and allow the top parties to participate. One of the most important things we can do to institute change in our political process is move away from the two party system and allow more room for dissenting opinions and compromise.

ST said...

Thank God Tuesday's almost here! I third the motion that I'm sick of the incessant phone calls and all the negative TV ads. Makes me not even want to vote on principle of the way they have to play the game (both sides). Makes me sick.