Another Viewpoint: Money talks, but it doesn’t buy votes

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This fall, the Democratic and Republican parties in Maine (and wealthy out-of-staters) made the mistake of thinking money spent on advertising would potentially change the course of a U.S. Senate election.

And just as you’d expect, since no one listens to anyone else anymore, and everyone is self-righteously right all the time no matter what they believe, it didn’t make a difference in any way at all.

Who envisions that a TV ad or flyer (or five flyers a day for three months, as we received) is going to change a mind at this point – people who currently live in a pre-internet world? How much money did they waste on this meaningless exercise in futility? Approximately $185 million, according to the Portland Press Herald.

I’ve spent 40 years of being alive thinking that the party I support has to eventually do something remarkable, innovative, and different to showcase the difference between the two parties left in this country, and I was wrong again.

There is a way to change the narrative completely, to rewrite how politics are done in this country. Either party could have done it in Maine, either party could do it in Georgia – and neither did, and neither will. Why? Because just like all large systems, they’re scared of innovation and of change (innovation and change don’t benefit entrenched systems). Also, folks just aren’t that creative or interesting.

By Jan. 6 there is a good chance that around $300-500 million will be spent on ads and meaningless flyers trying to get people to vote in Georgia. The same nonsense that hasn’t worked for the last 20 years. But what if instead of paying money to major media conglomerates and internet behemoths to overwhelm people with ads, you took that $300-500 million and actually invested it in the state of Georgia? What if you chose 300 towns in Georgia and dedicated one or two million dollars to improving each town? What if you looked at the places most impacted by COVID-19 and the economy in general and helped them?

You could invigorate small towns, you could help small businesses, you could help the poorest who need medical help. You could do all this and get thousands of stories written about the work you’re doing. Or you could do the usual thing: blanket media with tired ads that no one listens to anymore and change nothing.

What could have been done to help Maine with $185 million?

Well, you could have built a 60-mile bike path from Portland to Fryeburg for around $50 million (but you’ve got so much money left over, add another 125 miles of paved path around Maine, which has been shown to improve local economies, not to mention benefit the environment and public health).

How about just helping Presque Isle (which had the highest poverty rate in Maine in 2019)? You could give every resident there $20,000, or ideally, just help the quarter of the town that is in poverty by paying off their bills up to $40,000 then taking the remaining $80 million or so and revitalize downtown, helping to create opportunities for people to own businesses in a beautiful corner of Maine.

Or maybe you just focus on the 39 children in youth jail in Maine (as of 2019), since our entire community benefits from them not becoming repeat offenders? You could provide each of those children with a team dedicated to their success, and with $4.5 million allocated for each one of them, you could guarantee them a private therapist, the highest-quality private tutors, a free college education and health insurance for life, food and safety, a house of their own when they turn 18, and peace of mind – you know, instead of putting them in jail and spending that much on jail over the course of their life.

You could hire 185 artists (musicians, painters, dancers, writers, and more) from all over Maine and guarantee them 10 years of work at $100,000 year to create things of beauty for the residents of the state. Or if you don’t believe the creation of beauty is worth that much, make it 370 artists at $50,000 a year.

Or maybe you help rebuild crumbling infrastructure throughout the state. Or conserve thousands of acres for future generations and the environment (a simple search shows nine properties totaling around 23,000 acres for just $27 million). Or maybe allocate $85,000 for each of the 2,100 homeless Mainers (in 2019), which would be enough to provide housing for all of them, and then all other service providers could work on other aspects of their needs.

Or anything other than buying ads. You know, something that would actually help a community.

For the sake of American democracy, someone has to do something different. The most innovative change in politics in the past decade is that everyone seems to have turned into an illogical, foolish, self-righteous jerk who can’t discern reality from absurdity, and thinks they’re a genius while doing it. In the grand scheme of innovative change, this feels a little low brow, even for an evolved ape.

Please, someone, spend that money to improve the state, to improve the lot of the people who need it so dearly, who would, if not in this election, but in future ones, remember the only people who actually helped them. We are at a crossroads and we either change how we’ve done things, or we accept the results of how we’ve done things. We either evolve positively, or we devolve into mean-spirited fools tweeting our jerk ideas to an audience of simple like-minded goofballs.

Please, for the love of God, just do something for the community instead of just imitating the foolish nonsense you’re familiar with. It’s starting to move beyond embarrassing.

Andrew Fersch is a teacher and writer who lives in South Portland. See his children’s writing at instagram.com/theroughdraftofmylifestory and visit his website at afersch.com.