January 23, 2016 - by Jim Neff


The Neff Zone

Cadillac News




Ric has been one of my best friends for over 50 years. He now lives in another state, but we correspond at least once a week. When it comes to politics, he thinks I'm a left-leaning idiot. That's okay, because I'm positive he's off his right-tilting rocker. This does not diminish our friendship, however. As Thomas Jefferson said:” I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” In recent discussions, though, we have agreed on one thing. The way presidential elections are being conducted these days is disgraceful.


During the course of one of our email exchanges, I told Ric about a column I had written on the topic of presidential elections. When I searched my archives, it turned out that the column was published in the Cadillac News on August 23, 2004 - twelve years ago! (I've written 582 columns and that was column number three.) What astonished both of us is that, sadly, the column could have been written yesterday. Twelve years and, if anything, the situation has deteriorated. Here's what I wrote twelve years ago, during the George W. Bush vs. John Kerry presidential race.



If you’re like me, you’re already sick and tired of the presidential election. Modern campaigns have turned into nothing more than mud-slinging, personal attack ads, and convoluted fact manipulation. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, the whole process has become a national embarrassment.


Just once, before I die, I’d like to see a presidential election that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been coated in slime from the grease trap of a cheap roadside diner. Instead, in my semi-perfect election, this is what I would like to see.


The candidates would meet face-to-face in private before campaigning ever begins. They would agree to treat each other with civility and dignity and to allow no personal attacks in their campaigns. No name calling, no fact distortion, no petty nitpicking.

The candidates would agree to a set amount to be spent on campaigning. It would be a modest figure, so the candidates would be forced to manage their advertising carefully. This would give voters a chance to see each candidate construct and manage a budget.


Having agreed on these points, the candidates would appear on national television together and publicly explain the format to the American people. At that time, they would also tell all the political action committees, corporations, and lobbyists that no outside funds would be used in the election. They would call on those soft money interests to use the millions normally waste on campaign ads on more productive things, like health care for employees and research and development. Special interests that did not heed the candidates’ call would be branded anti-American, and the voters would know who their real friends were.


The campaign would last six weeks - period. During that time, each candidate would submit four position pieces to begin the campaign and one additional position piece each week (ten in total) to all media (newspapers, television, radio, Internet). Any media wishing to publish the pieces would do so verbatim. Each piece would adhere to the same format: identify an issue, explain why it is important to the American people, explain the candidate’s position, and detail how that position will be implemented. This would force each candidate to thoughtfully craft and explain his/her philosophy on the most important issues facing the country. At the same time, it would provide the voters with solid in-hand material upon which to base their votes.


The candidates would meet each week for nationally televised conversations. These would differ from debates in that there would be limited input by moderators, rather the conversations would feature just the two candidates discussing (back and forth) one or more of the issues presented in their respective position pieces. The conversations would have a respectful tone and no raised voices would be allowed. On occasion, one would hope, these conversations might result in agreement on a particular issue, thus taking that issue off the table for the remainder of the election period. More importantly, voters would be able to see how the candidates compare with one another in terms of intellectual acumen.


Regardless of the results of the election, the candidates would appear on the podium for the inauguration. The winner would be magnanimous to the loser, and the loser would be gracious to the winner. Afterwards, there would be no lavish victory celebration, no presidential dinners at $5000 a plate, no fancy black-tie events. The candidates would have agreed before hand that the first act of a new president should not be to squander millions of dollars on an unseemly coronation.


Such an election, for a change, would showcase the best that democracy has to offer, both for the citizens of our country and for the world at large. Instead of dismissing voters as ignorant rabble willing to swallow any shallow campaign promise, it would empower voters to think, question and measure, a respect not shown in my lifetime. I suspect, too, that such an election would spur a fervor of cooperation and problem solving unseen since the nation was founded. Just once, before I die, I’d like to see an election that pulls America up rather than drags America down.


As Ric pointed out to me, this is a pretty idealistic dream. “Your article is proof positive (written 12 years ago) that things have only gotten worse,” he added. However, he also expressed his own idealistic hope: “My perfect election, mud and all, would be that all the sheep voters listen to what's being said, understand what each party is offering, and then make an informed decision as to what is the best course for the nation. At least the choice will have had some thought.”


Alas, given what we're witnessing in the primary races, we'll have to wade through a lot of “worse” in the foreseeable future. R. Douglas Fields is a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In a Daily Beast article he states: “Bloodthirsty rage appears to have swept up the American people, like mass hysteria...Gone are the intellectual arguments that have dominated our presidential debates for two centuries.”


As an example of this, Fields notes: “The word “kill” was said 53 times in the Dec. 15, 2015, Republican presidential primary debate...By contrast, the word 'kill' was never used in the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate, despite the era’s dire threat of global nuclear annihilation.”



What elections have become is sad and tragic. As the philosopher Carl Jung pointed out: “Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” It's dismaying how little has changed since I wrote that column a dozen years ago. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “We need to remember that the ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”  As voters and citizens, we should demand a higher standard.


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at www.CadillacNews.com and www.NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.