“To defeat Barack Obama, Republicans can’t nominate a candidate who relies on outspending his opponents 7-1,” said Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich last week, referring to rival Mitt Romney, who overwhelmingly won the Illinois primary on March 20th. Indeed, the Associated Press reported that Romney and his allies outspent Santorum and his backers by $3.5 million to $500,000, an advantage of 7-1.
Gingrich’s remark showcases an inevitable aspect of the election process: our votes are up for auction and the highest bidder gets them. Sadly, he doesn’t always have to offer payment in the form of results, credentials, policies, or history. And he doesn’t always have to offer it to us. More often than not, the lucky buyer who walks away with the prized purchase of our votes has not given us anything at all, but has shelled out his funds on advertising, analysis, traveling and staffing costs. I can’t help but feel that we’re getting the raw end of the deal.
Gingrich’s insightful comment does not, of course, signify that his campaign has decided to take a principled stand against exorbitant spending, but merely that his synapses are still firing quickly enough to turn out those characteristically witty comebacks which were responsible for his short-lived surge in the polls late last year. When reports came in last month that big-money Republican donor Sheldon Adelson was expected to give $10 million to Gingrich’s Super PAC, the media networks were all abuzz with predictions that the new funds would shake up the primary race and give the former House Speaker a dramatic rise in the polls. This story serves to illustrate the fact that the pecuniary nature of elections is well-known generally and not frowned upon by our society.
There is another metaphor that aptly describes the means by which political hopefuls manipulate their voting blocs: we are the potential buyers and they are the products that are up for sale. Their number one focus is on selling themselves to us, and, in order to do that, they invest heavily in elaborate analysis programs that they use to plumb the quagmire of public opinion. One very disturbing example of this is Romney’s New Hampshire modus operandi as catalogued in this hard-hitting piece by the LA Times.
“Romney’s operatives paired the voter data with several hundred thousand paid and volunteer calls. They knew his sweet spot was among older, higher-income voters — those with annual household incomes of between $75,000 and $150,000 and with upscale interests like gourmet cooking. He was particularly appealing to older women and did best — as they knew from 2008 — among self-identified Republicans.
They also knew that Romney, a father of five sons, held particular appeal for voters whose consumer preferences showed a focus on children and family-centered activities. That knowledge guided the $1.3 million that Romney spent on television ads in New Hampshire, which focused heavily on his four-decade marriage and family values, as well as his business background.
Most important, the Romney team was able to weed out voters unlikely to support him — allowing it to steer away from socially conservative voters whose affinity for church or Bible interests, for example, suggested they might be a tougher target for a Mormon candidate.”
In a video that went viral across the web last Wednesday, Eric Fehrnstrom, a top aide for the Romney campaign, explained that taking conservative positions during the primary that may upset the liberal media is no problem for Mitt Romney. “Everything changes,” Fehrnstrom told CNN. “It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
During President Obama’s meeting Monday with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama let fall an appalling statement, unaware that his mic was still on.
“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev at the end of their 90-minute meeting, apparently referring to incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Medvedev replied, “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…”
“This is my last election,” said Obama. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”
The Russian leader responded, “I understand. I transmit this information to Vladimir.”
Needless to say, when the biggest concern faced by a candidate is how he might best sell himself to the public, trifles like principles, ethics and standards are almost foreordained to fall by the wayside. Rather, the sum of the candidate’s energies will be devoted to probing the interests of his voting bloc and catering to them through advertisements and statements carefully crafted to hit them in their most vulnerable places. We shouldn’t be surprised if this preoccupation with public opinion causes those in the limelight of politics to stumble around a bit, on occasion. Or to be forced to cede major talking points when polls show that a large number of voters have changed their minds about something.
Should politicians put a cap on their campaign spending and stop using in-depth analysis programs like those utilized by the Romney campaign? Perhaps. But those are unrealistic goals, to say the least. What we must do as citizens is make ourselves aware of the fact that we are being played “like violins,” (to steal a phrase from Hamlet) and that, in elections, as in all other business transactions, the byword is caveat emptor: buyer beware!