Governing Through Soundbites

This time of year is very frustrating for me.  I’m discouraged by all of the political campaigns that only seem interested in informing people of what’s wrong with the country and who’s to blame for it.  It really doesn’t matter which political party is in control, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of using the same tactics.  It’s very effective in getting people elected to office.  Unfortunately, it does little to solve the problems we face as a country.

My wife and I have been watching episodes of The West Wing lately.  There’s a scene in one episode that really resonated with me.  President Bartlet is in a debate when his opponent gives a ‘ten word answer’:

“Every once in a while, every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.”

I wish that only happened on television shows.  It seems political candidates are looking for that quick soundbite.  They are looking for that key phrase that moves them away from the B-roll footage into the headline.  My Congressman recently sent a survey (at tax-payer expense) that was designed to do nothing more than to provide vague statistics that can be twisted into supporting his legislative platform.

There are so many issues with this survey that it’s hard to identify where to begin.  Let’s start with the basics – the number of questions.  If you skip to the last page, you’ll see it shows there are 22 questions in this survey.  The problem is, there are actually 23 questions – there are two that are labelled #4.  If he’s looking for a soundbite, he may want to find one about the importance of proofreading.

Another issue with this survey is that there is no return date specified.  I assume he wanted to get the survey completed and returned fairly quickly so I sent it back right away.  Without specifying a date, some important opinions may be ignored because they weren’t returned in a timely manner.

A third point regarding this survey has to do with the questions themselves.  “Are you interested in ‘x’ issue? Yes or No”  As a concerned citizen, I’m interested in all of the issues.  There are certain issues I care about more than others, but this survey doesn’t ask HOW important or even rank WHICH ISSUE is most important.  It only asks if I’m interested.  The follow-up question for each question is even better. “Which do you feel has a better grasp of X issue? The President, The Congress, They both have a good grasp, Neither has a good grasp.”  Well, Congress has 535 members (435 in the House of Representatives, 100 in the Senate) so I’m sure at least some of them have a good grasp on the issues, but which ones are we referring?  Again, these questions are purposely vague and provide little (if any) insight into how his constituents’ feel about the issues.

The final thought I have with this survey is the last question asked.  “What would be your ideal plan to repair the United States’ economy?”  He provides three lines for the reply.  What could you possibly write in three lines that would be effective in repairing the economy?  This question (and the entire survey) isn’t a serious attempt to help shape his legislative agenda.  It’s an attempt to shape soundbites for the upcoming election season.


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