Friday, June 8, 2012

Ignoring the Lipstick and Looking at the Pig

David Lauter’s “Lessons from the Wisconsin recall vote” analysis for the Los Angeles Times made some interesting observations. I liked the way in which he systematically organized those observations according to whom would be affected: Governor (still) Scott Walker, labor unions, President Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, there was an interesting omission in each of these categories that has all of the impact of a dead moose on the table (or, as my title suggests, lipstick on a pig). At no point does the analysis try to account for the role of campaign spending or the way in which the Supreme Court has changed such spending practices.

Alexander Hamilton did not believe in democracy. He believed that giving the vote to the poor was all but inviting them to sell their votes to the rich. The main thing that has changed since Hamilton’s day is that politicians are less overt about buying votes. Thanks to the power of the consciousness industry, you do not have to persuade the poor to sell their votes. Instead, you pay the media industry to shape the minds of the poor. The good thing about this is that you then get what you want from those who are not so poor as part of the bargain.

I would be so bold as to suggest that in no way did the Wisconsin recall reflect “the voice of the people” (whatever that may mean). Rather, the consciousness industry was engaged to create a reasonable facsimile of “the people” and could then count on that “reasonable facsimile” to do the voting. The result was the best electoral decision money could buy.

This is far from a closely guarded secret. The New York Times now has a Web page called “The 2012 Money Race: Compare the Candidates.” It provides not only numbers but useful geographical visualizations. The only problem is that it is not up to date. The data cover only up to March 31, 2012. We know from a report today by Jim Kuhnhenn and Ken Thomas for the Associated Press that the balance shifted significantly in May.

This is not to argue over who has the latest numbers. Rather, it is to observe that arguing over numbers is attracting more media attention than arguing over issues. When you consider that many voters want to think of the coming election as a horse race, this makes sense. Numbers provide an estimate of the speed of the horse, and any other significant characteristics are evaporated off into thin air. As we know from talent shows, people like to vote for a winner and then be part of the crowd cheering the victory.

Even the wildest nightmares of Hamilton could not have come up with such a scenario.

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