Back at the polls again: You want to feel good, but…

Politics has become a lucrative business for media outlets, journalists and campaign consultants, writes Schechter.

The vote may "settle the election", but not the "issues and passions" that drive it [REUTERS]
The vote may "settle the election", but not the "issues and passions" that drive it [REUTERS]

I am a creature of habit and I try not to miss elections even if it means taking a “red eye” flight, as I did from Los Angeles, to make it to the machine on time. 

What I learned, and you can legitimately ask where have I been, is that: 

• I could have voted earlier. 

• We no longer use machines in New York, and the scanners that record votes can be dicey. My first ballot was rejected because I failed to adequately darken the circle next to the candidate I picked. 

It’s almost like failing kindergarten, because my crayon wasn’t sharp enough, so I gave it another try. 

The voting place had been moved from a home for the blind, a more appropriate venue perhaps than the school that now housed the polls. Anyway, it’s a high school for fashion, hardly known as a centre for democratic discourse. 

When I arrived to the right desk, I was asked if I had a picture ID. Even in my jet-lagged haze, I knew that was a no-no. 

There are no ID laws in New York and they have been struck down in other states too. Before I hit the umbrage button, the clerk told me she asked for the ID because she didn’t know how to spell my name and so she couldn’t check the book. 

After I spelled it, everyone was happy. The other more experienced poll worker told me I was quite right that there was no need for the ID, as she gave me the machine ready ballot form and a file folder to put it in. 

Soon, I was at a small desk manoeuvering a pen tied to a chain to mark the ballot. I soon realised, the name of my long-time Congressman Jerry Nadler was gone, I guess, as a result of some redistricting I didn’t know about. 

I was also asked to select judges picked by the Democrats, all names I didn’t know. 

Election chaos in many parts

Few media outlets even cover local races or issues any more. 2012 is the year of the big presidential vote, but everyone has already conceded New York to Obama. Romney only came here to press the flesh of his Wall Street buddies. 

There are reports of election chaos in many parts of the country. The actual voting is usually not a story until complains surface about irregularities. 

Early on Election Day, the organisation monitoring problems at the polls in the name of “election protection” reported receiving 100,000 calls from confused or angry voters. 

There are reports of more problems in the South Florida communities that gave us the Bush debacle of 2000. 

There have been charges of money laundering in connection with the million dollar donations by the right-wing billionaire industrialists, David and Charles Koch. 

There have been reports of many voters facing long lines. 

In one case, a voter in Pennsylvania watched a machine record his vote for Obama as a vote for Romney. Supposedly, the problem was solved when the system was “rebooted”. 

There have been accusations that uncertified, “experimental” software patches have been installed on machines in 39 Ohio counties of the key swing state. 

And who knows if many of the Romney backers will turn out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, especially in the aftermath of his call or an end to the federal agency dealing with disasters? 

Many conservative neighbourhoods in Staten Island and Queens were pulverised by the storm. Tens of thousands still do not have power. Many residents there are more preoccupied by survival issues than national politics. 

Significantly, two local Republicans seem to have shifted. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the President and neighbouring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was cozy with Obama when the two assessed the storm damage from the air. 

Every media outlet is “covering” the returns the way they covered the campaign as a horse race with commentators and pundits competing for what TV people call “face time. In many ways, it’s more about them than the politicians. 

There is no politics in the US without media. Just ask the third parties that get no attention, in the debates or on air. Just ask the growing army of those who don’t vote because they are disgusted with the whole spectacle. 

Politics as a ‘lucrative business’

A candidate can win but his reputation may not, reports the media monitoring organisation Media Tenor. Casey Chancellor, analyst at Media Tenor International, says:  

“With 11 straight months of negative media tonality this year, voters are presented with a stark contrast from Obama’s image in 2008. Thus, regardless of a victory on Election Day, trust in Obama has faded away. 

Factors that could have worked in his favour were the positive jobs reports and increase in consumer confidence, as well as the opportunity to present himself as an empathetic leader during a natural disaster.”

But, “Obama’s reputation has plummeted since 2008. During the campaign, the media highlighted positive economic developments but did not associate them with the incumbent.” 

What this means that whoever wins, there will certainly be accusations of vote rigging and an intensification of partisan warfare. The vote may settle the election, but not the issues and passions that drive it. 

Media has become the main arena of politics. 

That’s why so much money – billions – is spent on political ads. Bear in mind that the professionals who make them and place them also get commissions/kick-backs when TV networks run them. 

I was told by a former Democratic campaign worker that he suspects that the Republican campaign guru/strategist, Karl Rove, will have enough money to “cash out” after orchestrating so many “media buys”. 

Politics has become a lucrative business for media outlets, journalists and campaign consultants. They live for new election cycles and know all too well that polarisation and bitter controversy enhances the perceived need for their role. 

They have self-interest in inflaming passions while ensuring that whoever wins office, they will not necessarily be able to deliver on their promises. The political stalemate that we saw in the last Congress is likely to continue in the next. 

Back at the polling place in my neighbourhood that was without power last week, the machine thanked me for my vote. It was hard to feel much joy about the process or how our democracy has deteriorated. 

I may have my lights back on, but don’t feel that I have any real power.

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net. His most recent books are Blogothon and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He hosts a radio show on ProgressiveRadioNetwork (PRN.fm). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

Follow him on Twitter: @dissectorevents

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