Monday, January 14, 2013

5 Shocking Truths About Politics and Social Media

I hate politics. Despise is probably a more suitable word.  Anyone who wants to run for public office should not be trusted.  Ben Franklin was right.  Public servants should be drafted, kidnapped and dragged, kicking and screaming, to their office of duty.  But it seems the American public has become deluded with their own tiny subjective views of the world, mostly due to the crushing influence of mass media, social media, and things are unraveling at an increasing pace.  The new meme is something like "everyone has a voice, so everyone has meaning" which is bullshit.  When everyone talks at once, the terms is "noise". I should know, noise is what I usually make.

It took less than 24 hours for people to start arguing in public forums about gun laws and gun ownership following the shooting in Newtown, CT.  That might not be a record, but damn if I can recall a similar situation in recent memory where the secondary and tertiary debates kicked in, at full throttle, in such short time.  And the debates were not just in one or two places, but everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, TV news, cable news, news web sites, radio station call-ins, office kitchens, PTA meetings, even grocery store check-out lines.  Conversations could be heard everywhere, with the usual Red Bull-infused emotional urgency about government taking away guns-this, and government restricting ammo-that.  Forget about the kids and teachers being shot to death in their classrooms.  That's not important.  Step aside: we have more important matters to argue over.

(record-scratch sound goes here) - time to stop for a moment and recognize a few realizations:

1 - You Bitch a Lot, But Have you Really Done Anything?

Honestly.  Seriously.  No, I really mean it:  When was the last time you contacted your Congressman or Senator (or any public servant you voted into office)?  Was it in the last year?  Do you even know who your public servants are?  Is their phone number stored in your mobile phone?  You may continually open up and let loose with a double-barrel opinion blast on Facebook and Twitter, but does that really do anything?  This leads to...

2 - Your Congressman/Senator Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Facebook Rants

Do you really think posting your concerns, beliefs and values on Facebook is making a real difference?  Playing the same song for the same group of friends, over and over again.  Does it make any real changes to society as a whole?  Do you think your Congressman or Senator reads your Facebook posts?  Do you even believe they hire someone to do that for them?  But you have 400 "Likes" on your comment about how much you hate so-and-so.  Surely they must have read it by now, right?  Even though you "Like" your Congressman or Senator, do they really follow you back?  This leads to...

3 - You Probably Don't Really Know Your Congressman or Senator

Have you met them?  Have you spent a few hours with them?  Have you had dinner or lunch with them?  Seen a movie together?  Served in the military with them or worked aside them at a previous job?  Chances are high that EVERYTHING you think you "know" about that person is based on what you've seen or heard on TV or the radio.  Don't assume that just because your Senator has a really cool-looking photo-op with Wayne LaPierre, replete with cool guns in each hand, that he/she shares your general political views (let alone your priorities therein).

You probably feel confident that the "mass media" is biased and skews information to suit their agenda, but how do you know they're not also skewing the stuff you've been swallowing as "good" information?  Unless you spend as much time with your public officials as you do your neighbors, how can you assume you "know" them at all?

4 - In The Battle Between [you] and [FAT] Corporate Bank Accounts, Guess Who Wins?

Your Congressman or Senator is probably sitting with a corporate lobbyist right this very minute.  Imagine you're the Congressman and your secretary buzzes your phone to say,

"Mr. Congressman, John Doe from your district is on line 4.  He says it's important and wants to talk about gun control."

You say, "What's my calendar look like?"

She replies, "You have a meeting in fifteen minutes with the NRA rep about funding your campaign, and at 1:00 you have a meeting with the Walmart rep. about building a new distribution center in your district.".

You say, "Uhhh, which one of them has promised the most funding for my PAC?"

She replies, "God, you're such an asshole."

You almost choke on your Martini, but manage to reply with something like "...and that's why I'm a Senator and you're not.  Hee hee haw haw (cough-cough, snort)"

Guess who gets the "I'm sorry, but the Congressman is tied up today, can you call back sometime next year?" message.

This leads to...

5 - Your Federal Government Doesn't Work FOR You Anymore

To work FOR YOU means they would have to hire a lot more workers than they already have.  This is because they would have to form a division of people for each of the major segments of their constituency.  Right now, they're just barely staffed to satisfy the needs of big corporations and defense contractors.  Those are the sugar daddies that bankroll their campaign costs.  They have to work hard to take care of those folks, which occupies all their time of course.  In between, they might squeeze in some time for a photo-op at a local children's hospital, or a ribbon-cutting at a new pet shelter, then get some photos of them looking serious and working hard to use for their upcoming campaign.  They don't have time for you.  But they do appreciate that vote you cast for them.

So that's that.  I know I sound pessimistic, but really, that's my optimistic view of this whole charade.

Summarizing my Conclusions

Let's take a slightly more pragmatic view of what it might be like to be a professional politician...

You won the election and after you shower off the champagne and caviar debris, you clean up and pack your stuff, drive up to the state (or national) capital, move into your new residence, then move into your new office.  You spend days learning all the staff members, where the bathrooms are, the cafeteria, the nearest bars, the best parking, the supply rooms, the nearest gym, and what kind of wi-fi services are available.  Then you start getting the calls from the lobbyists, you know, the people you were elected to serve, and your contacts list begins to explode with names and numbers.

Then you start having meetings.  The first few months are nothing but meetings with committees, PAC groups, lobbyists, civic groups, various "special interest" groups, Union delegates, corporate representatives (slippery definition on "lobbyists" here), and so on.  You check the Inbox for mail, but all there is are junk items and lobbyist packets.  You check your e-mail Inbox and the same stuff is there also.

After six months, you've voted on a few bills and supported a few motions to promote a few others.  You've joined a few new committees and attended their meetings. You've voted on some proposals/propositions.  You go back and check your inboxes, but there's still nothing new.  You decide that must mean you're doing a good job.  Your constituents MUST be happy with what you're doing, or else they'd tell you.  Right?

After a year, your non-committee meeting schedule is filled with lobbyists (Walmart, Boeing, SAIC, IBM, Toyota, GM, Ford, HP, Cox Communications, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Pfizer, GSK, Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg, Sears, Kroger, Food Lion, McDonald's, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Astro-Zeneca, Target, Monsanto, ADM, Dominion Resources, Con-Edison, Phillip-Morris, Intel, Motorola, Mattel, 3M, Samsung, Sony, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Bosch, LG, Amazon, Facebook, Google, InstaGram, Twitter, FourSquare, blah blah blah blah blah), and all the local business leaders from "back home".  In between you manage to squeeze in a few minutes for your spouse and kids, some golf (maybe), a movie, a trip somewhere.  But you have to be back in time to show your face, and your newest suit, on Fox News, or CNN.

Then their "team" of "public relations" goons makes some phone calls with talking points, marketing tags, slogans, and whatnot to offer the Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC and HLN folks.  They open up, relax their throat muscles, dislocate their jaws, and swallow every drop of that Kool Aid and go to work slathering it with sub-titles, splash announcements and a sprinkle of Computer Graphics.  A few hundred thousands dollars from the PAC fund helps get their "message" out in front of the other guy on five channels, but they couldn't match the bribe, oops, funding, that their opponent pitched to the other five channels.

They shovel a train-load of made-up statistics, false accusations, outright lies and meaningless, vague claims of "fixing" things and having a "plan" for this or that, and watch the polls until they get the key indicator figures to show their spewage has taken hold and the public is believing it.  In between makeup touch-up, you work with your strategists, who school you in the fine art of talking vague and making serious statements that really mean nothing at all.

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it (part-time, of course, and get paid for taking the rest of the time off).  You think it's easy working a job for two or four years, and having to be forced to accept a paycheck for the rest of your life, even after you've left the job?  Holy cow!  I can't imaging how tough that must be.

We vote them in, or their so-called "replacements", and then become disillusioned when they, just like the last time, don't deliver on their so-called "promises".  Only thing is, each campaign cycle is getting more and more refined, and the candidates are getting better and better at wrapping their false promises in vague wrapping paper, so you can't even tell what their promises are really promising anymore.  That way you're not sure if they broke their promises, or not.  You go out and vote again, firmly convinced this time it's going to be different.  It's going to be better.  And then you discover that your vote really didn't put the president in office, the Electoral College vote did.  It stings a little.  But if you drink enough, you find that it's really not so bad.

This machine we call "Democracy" is working just fine.

Yeah, I'm just a little cynical.  Still, I wouldn't trade living in America for anywhere else (unless I win the Lottery, then we'll have another discussion).

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