In an Oct. 9 Rolling Stone article titled “How the Hype Became Bigger Than the Presidential Election,” Matt Taibbi argued that the current length of presidential campaigns and the subsequent weight that they carry are unnecessary and dangerous. Taibbi defined the problem by saying, “Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in a craven, cynical effort to stir up hatred and anger on both sides. A decision that in reality takes one or two days of careful research to make is somehow stretched out into a process that involves two years of relentless, suffocating mind-warfare.”
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Taibbi has a point. The lines separating Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are stunningly clear. It’s not hard to pick between the two; I would estimate it took me four hours of fact-checking. So why does the whole thing last two years?
The answer probably seems obvious to you. There is a segment of the population—undecided voters—that waits until late October or early November to make up their minds. Presidential campaigns exist solely to bombard this small group of Americans with superfluous, gaudy pleas for votes. It’s unfortunate. It’s sad. But it’s true. Every four years both major presidential campaigns happily suppress the tenets of their ethical system and proceed to create a destructive culture of “us vs. them,” just to get the undecided vote. Presidential campaigns are like “The Bachelor”—overdramatic, over hyped, and every contestant obviously has some innate form of narcissism; just replace the final rose with the highest office in the country. The campaigns create the myth that the presidential campaigns are important to stay updated on. However, the media, in a mystically cyclical way, legitimizes it. Every news source shamelessly endorses the propaganda of the presidential campaign by consistently publishing a superfluous, tired, portfolio of campaign-related minutia.
Why? Because everyone loves a good race. The New York Times recently added a fifth section about the election to the main part of its paper. Most of the headlines for this section are barely even somewhat-relevant to political discourse—“Rivals Crisscross Ohio As Race Seems to Tighten,” “Romney Says White House Botched Response to Banghazi Attack,” “Obama Campaign Tells Supporters: Steady On.” Cable news is even worse. I have a challenge for you: watch a show on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC tonight. I guarantee the vast majority of the broadcast will be dedicated to the presidential campaign.
Paying scrupulous attention to the presidential campaign is like choosing to listen to “This American Life” when you feel you should be doing something productive. It’s like drinking diet soda when you feel you should be eating healthy. It’s like buying Toms shoes when you feel you should be doing something altruistic. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and you might even learn something. But that is all.
Presidential campaign news should be found in People Magazine not Time Magazine. It should be found on the Entertainment Network not CNN. It should be found in The Metro—the free paper you get on the subway—not The New York Times. All of the perpetual fluffing-up and legitimizing of material that most likely originates as campaign propaganda has obvious consequences—wasted money, lost work time for the president, unnecessary masses of volunteers, state government becomes less interesting, etc.
But there is one consequence that is the most glaring, a beat-the-enemy culture is created. When Americans are inundated with a consistent stream of political gamesmanship, a culture is created—a culture where it is less important for your candidate to win and more important for the other candidate to lose.
This “us vs. them” attitude carries over into Washington D.C. with disgusting allowance. All the gridlock in the capitol is born on the campaign trail. It is born in that mid-day news story about Barack Obama declaring “you didn’t build that” or that NY Times headline about Mitt Romney saying 47 percent of Americans will never vote for him. When the campaign ends, candidates stumble off the trail into their Washington D.C. offices and immediately rely on what got them there in the first place, morbid exclusivity. The Republicans and the Democrats are currently lined up on both sides of a metaphorical eighteenth-century battlefield, guns drawn, wearing respective colors, waiting for the call to fire. The people who sounded the battle horns, the original few who abandoned the semi-congenial conversations with their opponents, straightened their jackets, and fetched their weapons, know that no one should ever fire; they know the whole field is all just an intricate, tangible mirage used to entertain and make money; its artistically utilitarian. But the new people, the people who are lined up pointing their weapons just because everyone else is and haven’t been informed of the unspoken purposes, are pulling their triggers more frequently, turning government into a twisted, bloody, and most of all misleading battle field.
Dylan Morrill can be contacted at