Welcome to the last stretch of the 2022 election season. Who’s ready to watch the Bullshit Olympics?
I’d particularly like to welcome the new voters out there. Maybe you’re a teenager and it’s your first time, maybe you’ve been moved to go back to the ballot box after a stretch of ambivalence. Maybe someone on the Internet told you voting is the only answer. Either way, I’ve got some hard pregame analysis to lay on you.
Most people want to believe if we vote hard enough for the right team, they’ll use whatever power they have to make our lives better. We’re rooting for the good guys. The people like us. The team that says stuff we like most of the time, even if they always get tripped up by the other team on the stuff that would really help us out. The heroes – or at least the lesser of two evils.
In truth, the current political system is much more interested in people and corporations with enough money and power to buy politicians. Because corporations are the major funders behind both parties. Directly and indirectly through political action committees, contributions from executives and their families, and let’s face it, thanks to weak enforcement of campaign finance laws, their interests are statistically speaking, consistently represented.
Most of the population doesn’t have access to this kind of money or power. Instead, we get to sit in the audience and watch the show.
Politics as entertainment is a lucrative industry, in no small part due to media framing around money as a proxy for public support. Without the money for VIP meet-and-greets, we’re stuck yelling from the bleachers – all while being force-fed the lie that the movement of corporate wealth beneath the surface to various candidates has anything to do with broad “grassroots” support translating to consent to policy positions.
If politicians actually cared about the fans, we might see them doing things like engaging members of the community in policymaking and discussing their process in open forums. Instead, we usually get websites with shockingly limited policy platforms and noncommittal language. Don’t like it? A constituent service representative will promise to “pass your message along.” If you’re lucky, the effort may yield a form letter with an autograph. Or maybe a free bumper sticker.
Some might argue politicians provide more transparency in debates. However, based on recent trends in bigger Maine races (looking at you, CD2), major party candidates only choose to attend debates at their leisure – or as their fundraising schedule allows – while independents scramble for the opportunity to be included in the conversation.
Worse, those precious few public debates typically serve as little more than recitals of choreographed pivots away from direct questions into dutifully memorized stump speeches. In the end, debates are as scripted as pro wrestling and with less interesting costumes.
I don’t want to be a killjoy for the organizers out there, but I don’t think I’m harshing any mellows by saying the lack of accountability in government to the broader public is gross. I don’t want to tell anyone what to think. I just want to call attention to some questions we all might keep in mind while watching the show this fall:
• Does this candidate answer the question they are asked or do they change the subject?
• If you were doing a group project together, would you trust this candidate to do the homework?
• Has this candidate spoken with real members of your community?
• Does this candidate have any idea what it feels like to live with the things you worry about every day?
• If you wanted to reach this candidate, are you confident you could do so in a meaningful way?
• If your hometown had a crisis, do you believe this candidate would find a way to be genuinely useful?
• Does this candidate look and sound the way you expect a politician would? Is that good or bad? Why?
• Does this candidate create artificial urgency or exploit emotional events for fundraising emails?
• How much money is this candidate spending on advertising when they know Mainers are struggling?
• Who is funding this person’s candidacy? If there are PACs, who is funding those PACs?
This is by no means a comprehensive list. I guess I just think we’re going to need better criteria than “the one I’d want to have a beer with” if we want to stop being pandered to by people who wouldn’t pour a beer on us if we were on fire – let alone faithfully represent our interests.
Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].