I like to think the majority of people are fairly intelligent and capable of making rational decisions based on sound reasoning. Maybe I'm an optimist, but I feel quite confident about the average citizen's ability to see through political rhetoric and know what's right in the end. This was my point of view until the recent phenomenon of The Governator.
It's easy to dismiss Arnold Schwarzenegger's election as the next Governor of California from an elitist perspective built on idealized perceptions of what a politician ought to be, but I'm not so interested in that. It's been done. And, to be honest, having an actor as a politician is almost refreshing. We know politicians repeat scripted lines anyways, so why not get a professional (well, more or less) in there?
What I find most outrageous about this entire scenario is the way he got himself elected, namely without any specific details of how he would govern.
First, in his typically over-rehearsed manner, Arnold announced that he would seek the position on The Tonight Show. From there, he continued dishing out one-liners, perfect for nightly newscast sound-bites, to whatever audience would listen. Thanks to a predominately bored/curious media, they were aired ad nauseum.
Second, he participated in one debate, sort of. The only television appearance with the other candidates he participated in was, not coincidentally, the only debate where participants received the questions beforehand. To his credit, Arnold did do one in-depth interview on Oprah.
Finally, his actual platform or whatever could be found of it. No, he didn't go into detail, but he told voters he would cut taxes and raise social spending to turn California's deficit around. More specifically, he vowed to cut an unpopular car tax but was confident he could find ample amounts of money being wasted elsewhere. This in a state already spending more on its prison system than on education.
The fact that he got himself elected this way is incredible, and almost makes you wonder how this will affect future elections in the United States.
In November 2004, Americans go to the polls to either elect a new president or give George W. Bush another four years in the White House. If last week's election is any indication of what's to come, you can bet all those pesky details will become even less important as candidates work on image instead of ideas. Sure, that's always been an important part of political campaigns, but now it might prove even more crucial.
Just look at the image the President has been working on lately. From landing in full military gear on a delayed aircraft carrier to declare the end of major combat in Iraq, to his more recent attempts to be seen with political leaders from around the world, Bush and his team are working hard to see he actually gets himself elected this time around. Of course, it's not just a Republican faÃ§ade, the Democratic presidential candidates are doing the same, each remodelling their images with what the latest polls tell them the public wants from a Democratic opposition.
Is this what the future holds in store for American politics? All image, little substance. Looks like it. So much for optimism.