The New Black & White

Red black like unlikeMike said it on Facebook. “It’s a long way until November and I’m already getting tired of all the political ads. I hope that people get their heads out of the sand, their asses in gear and put GOD back into their lives and into this COUNTRY. Put the Constitution back into government. And we the people demand a balanced budget. I’m now getting off my soap box. PLEASE WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!”

I’ve known Mike since junior high. I don’t know his politics. But I do know his sentiment.

It’s reflective of how even Facebook has become politicized, with Republicans and Democrats playing tit-for-tat, posting anti- and pro-Obama and anti-opposing party charts, tables, photos, campaign posters.

“If you want food stamps, vote Democrat. If you want a paycheck, vote Republican.” “Do you want a businessman who generated billions or a President who wasted trillions?” Or there’s the “Mitt Romney Sucks” website.

Mike and I had Mr. Swan and Mr. Switzer for American Trends and American history.

I also remember the discussions about how the 1960 election was a political watershed for the country, with men – Kennedy and Nixon –seeking the office of President rather than the office seeking them. I wonder what they would make of that tenet 46 years later.

Mother Jones’ magazine website has a chart reflecting how much has been spent on presidential campaigns historically in U.S. dollars from Lincoln’s 1860 campaign to Obama and McCain in 2008. The price tag on the latter was roughly $1.4 billion with a “B.” It’s expected that Obama-Romney will be even higher.

The French provided influential philosophical underpinnings for our representative form of government. It’s perhaps time to considering adopting their presidential campaign model. The French limit campaigning to generally two weeks before the election. I’d be happy with 90 days rather than the two years or more to which we’re now subject. No legal entities in France are allowed to participate in financing a political candidate unless the legal entity is a political party. “The intent of Parliament was to cut any link between the economic world and the political world. To compensate for this loss of funding, it sensibly increased public funding.” Funding for U.S. presidential candidates could come from a federal election pool with each receiving an equal amount and third-party funding restricted.

Canada, for example, limits political donations to roughly $1200 per calendar year, according to Elections Canada’s website election primer. Nomination expenses are limited to roughly $14-$20,000 and spending limit for campaigns is around $200,000. Third parties are restricted to a total of $150,000 on election advertising and can’t spend more than $3,000 on advertising to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in a given electoral district.

Similar policies in U.S. elections would temper at least some of Mike’s angst.

We’ve become a nation of Republican “red” or Democrat “blue” states. As Paul Fahrti noted in an insightful Washington Post column on election day in 2004, the terms “red” and “blue” evolved from a way of indicating graphically on TV which candidate had won a majority of a state’s popular vote. But the designations have become “shorthand for an entire sociopolitical world view. A ‘red state’ bespeaks . . . a series of cultural cliches (churches and NASCAR) . . . (while) ‘blue states’ suggest . . . urban and latte-drinking. Red states . . . are a little but country, blues are a little more rock-and-roll.”

There were 22 red states, and 28 blue and the District of Columbia in the 2008 election.

But states aren’t either/or red or blue. In 2008, John McCain won 52.2% of the popular vote in Georgia and Barack Obama won 47%. So Georgia’s a red state by three percentage points. Consider, however, that only about 55% of the country’s voting-age population voted in the last three presidential elections. So Georgia’s a red state based on the votes of slightly more than 50% of the population, slightly more than 50% of whom voted for McCain.

Mr. Swan and Mr. Switzer would be shocked by how dysfunctional Congress has become, which is where the red/blue polarization effect of the presidential election continues to play out for four years.

There’s an imprecise memory of class discussions about the two-party system, which required some refreshing on the internet. Two-party systems in U.S. politics evolved after 1792 as the Federalists and Democratic-Republican party competed for control of the Presidency. Even as Washington turned down a third term, the Presidency was a political plum, but it was the plum of parties, not individuals.

In his Farewell Address, Washington wrote, “(Let me) warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally. . . . (The) common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

Given the partisan politics today, his fears have become our reality. Political polarization instigated in the presidential campaign results in proposed solutions to our national issues being either Republican or Democrat. The effect is legislative gridlock that prompts laments like Mike’s, regardless of your political affliation.

In its Congressional Scorecard, That’ calculates the liberal scores of House and Senate Members; these data reflect the polarization in Congress (see the chart). In the House, the Strong/Somewhat Liberal count is 26.6% of its 436 members; Weakly Liberal, The Mushy Middle and Milquetoast Conservatives is 22.5% of the members; and Somewhat (Reddening)/Strong (Xtremely) Conservative contingent is 50.9%. Parenthetically, the site’s bias is reflected in its labels, e.g., “Weakly Liberal” isn’t “Milquetoast Liberal” or “Reddening Conservatives” isn’t “Somewhat Conservative.”

In the Senate, the Strong/Somewhat Liberal count is 18% of the 100 senators; Weakly Liberal, The Mushy Middle and Milquetoast Conservatives is 42% of the senators; and Somewhat (Reddening)/Strong (Extremely) Conservative contingent is 40%.

Congress’ inability to compromise and develop bipartisan solutions to our country’s issues and problems, and the failure of our elected representatives to listen to and implement their constituents’ have dire consequences for the present and the future fate of America. There are a lot of us Mikes.

And our elected officials can argue and filibuster and play partisan politics until the Chinese call in our debts. And, no, that’s not an anti-Chinese sentiment — they hold our IOUs. It won’t matter then who was Republican or Democrat, who was right or wrong.

Dr. Nick De Bonis

Dr. Nick De Bonis

Nick De Bonis has been a college instructor or professor one score and six, teaching undergraduate and graduate classes in marketing, advertising, management, broadcasting and communications. A marketing lecturer at Georgia Southern, he's also taught at Savannah (GA) State, Macon State, the Goizueta Business School at Emory, California State-Fullerton, Texas A&M, LSU and Pepperdine. His professional career includes both newspapers and radio, as a reporter, editor, DJ and salesman. He's also the co-author of three professional trade books for McGraw-Hill. An Air Force Vietnam vet who served on active duty in both the Air Force and the Army, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Masters from Troy (State) University and undergraduate degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine. He's lived from coast to coast and, although he's been in the South for more than 20 years, his Southern-born wife says he'll never be "one of us."