I believe that a major turning point in the decay of the American political world came in the 1950s, when campaign managers shifted away from presenting politicians as statesmen and began selling them by using the techniques of commercial advertising, their idea being that a politician can be marketed and sold to consumers like a bar of soap.
In Connecticut I routinely see television ads, from both Democrats and Republicans, featuring vaguely defined, non- descript, average-Joe types talking about how their candidate is a real American who can get things done. I see rooms filled with crowds of smiling, enthusiastic people holding campaign signs. I see broad, generalized, meaningless slogans such as “change” or “experience” or “someone new” or “leadership” or “education” or “create jobs.”
A recent TV ad for the campaign of the bland, boring Democrat Ned Lamont for governor of Connecticut featured the slogan “Education” along with vague promises such as “I will work with teachers” and photos of Mr. Lamont with children. What does such an ad accomplish except the demoralization of the voters? When was the last time a candidate actually stood in front of the camera in a simple, inexpensive ad and said what he believed and why — instead of trying to paint a dreamy, feel-good picture or featuring survey-tested buzzwords with subliminal associations, as if someone were using depth psychology to sell a brand of car?
If voters were presented with candidates’ detailed views on the issues rather than the colorful advertising that their campaigns spew forth, the politicians with original, well-thought-out solutions would stand out. This would give libertarians an advantage (which is perhaps one reason why major-party candidates don’t take this approach); it would also give the voters a break. It would make it easier for them to make rational choices, instead of gambling on the choice between vacuous sound bites and smiling faces trying to be all things to all people.
I would like to see the day when, instead of spending millions of dollars on colorful campaign ads, all candidates would simply fill out a questionnaire listing in detail their opinions on the important issues, post it on their websites, and let the people who care about voting read each questionnaire and choose whomever they agree with.
Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon is running on the slogan “create jobs,” but she has actually posted on her website a fairly detailed plan for exactly how she means to accomplish this (e.g. lowering taxes, reducing government regulations). That certainly makes it easier for me to know what kind of politician she is — and the payoff for her is that it makes it easier for me to consider voting for her.
It is questionable whether voters must demand this approach from politicians or whether politicians must start adopting it in order to attract voters, but it would benefit both candidates and voters, and it would certainly benefit libertarians.