What we Americans go through to pick a president is not only crazy and unnecessary but genuinely abusive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in a craven, cynical effort to stir up hatred and anger on both sides. A decision that in reality takes one or two days of careful research to make is somehow stretched out into a process that involves two years of relentless, suffocating mind-warfare, an onslaught of toxic media messaging directed at liberals, conservatives and everyone in between that by Election Day makes every dinner conversation dangerous and literally divides families.There ya go. The "horse race" sells ads.
Politicians are much to blame for this, but we in the media have to take responsibility for the damage we do to the American psyche in the name of election coverage. At this very moment, there are people all over the country who are stocking up on canned goods and ammo for the apocalypse they believe will come if Obama is re-elected. For the broadcast business to be successful, viewers need to be not merely interested in our political melodramas, they have to be in an absolute state about them – emotionally invested in the outcome and frightened not to watch what happens next. And any person who's been subjected to 720 consecutive days of propaganda is not likely to take the news well if he gets the wrong result, whether it's a victory for Obama or for Romney. By that point, the networks have spent two years finding new ways each day to convince him that the world is going to disintegrate into some commie or Hitlerian version of Mad Max, to keep him coming back and watching ads.
The campaign should start and finish in six weeks, and there should be free TV access to both candidates. And it should be illegal to publish poll numbers. This isn't as crazy as it sounds – they actually had such a law in Russia while I lived there, and people were much happier. (Well, they were still miserable, because they were Russian, but at least they weren't stressing about poll numbers.) Think about it: Banning poll numbers would force the media to actually cover the issues. As it stands now, the horse race is the entire story – I can think of a couple of cable networks that would have to go completely dark tomorrow, as in Dan-Rather-Dead-Fucking-Air dark, if they had to come up with even 10 seconds of news content that wasn't centered on who was winning. That's the dirtiest secret we in the media have kept from you over the years: Most of us suck so badly at our jobs, and are so uninterested in delving into any polysyllabic subject, that we would literally have to put down our shovels and go home if we didn't have poll numbers we can use to terrify our audiences. Can you imagine if your favorite news network had to do stories like, "What is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation up to, and what do each of the candidates think about it?" That would be like asking Nineties-era baseball players to take the field without popping greenies – what, you mean play the game sober? Half the on-air talent would have to resign, or do ad work hawking reverse mortgages.Just as an aside, Pat Boone, notorious right-winger and very white singer and head of the Beverly Hills Tea Party, is hawking reverse mortgages on TV. The Teabaggers hate government, right? His big selling point is that the reverse mortgages, which are mostly a scam anyway, are government insured. Hypocrisy knows no bounds where money is involved, and money is involved in everything.