Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Diane, and I disapproved this message

There are only 39 days left until the presidential election, which means only about 39,000 more political ads I have to sit through. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but living in a projected swing state means it feels like I'm sitting (or fast-forwarding, thank God for TIVO) through a zillion ads every day. I read somewhere that Detroit is the #2 market nationwide for all campaign ads, and #1 for Obama ad buys. (He likes us, he really likes us!) Some of the Obama ads actually treat us like grownups, speaking plainly about what he wants to do and asking us to read his whole plan on his website. But then there are the ones that just scream: Michigan lost JOBS overSEAS and it's MCCAIN'S FAULT! (But wait, other ads say Michigan lost JOBS overSEAS and it's the FAULT of OBAMA and those LIBERALS in CONGRESS! I'm so confused!) I thought maybe I'd get a break today because McCain said he was halting his campaign during the financial crisis, including not airing ads, but no, they were still interrupting my breakfast, as were the annoying anti-stem-cell-proposal ads (they're GOING to SPEND your MONEY!).

So during this bombardment I can't help but look back wistfully on my time in London. We spent the entire 2000 campaign overseas, as well as most of the aftermath, which probably helped my sanity. Then we saw the British system at work the following year, as I summed up on my website:
First of all, a five-week election season! The government calls for an election, and it happens in about a month. So no constant political nattering about something that won't take place for eighteen months. Second, hardly any political ads!! They get equal TV time for party broadcasts, but these are scheduled so you can avoid them if you want. No watching TV and having it interrupted by nasty, slanted, mean-spirited political ads. There was plenty of coverage in the news media, oftentimes with a particular slant, but for the most part it was informative. Third, there is a viable national third party, the Liberal Democrats, as well as viable local parties (Green, Scottish & Welsh national parties, even one who ran—and won—on a "Save Kidderminster Hospital" platform) so you really had a decent choice.

The most notable difference, however, is that in Britain you don't vote directly for prime minister, you vote for your member of parliament (MP), and then the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with the most MPs becomes prime minister. So you can't "split" your vote like you do in the States, by voting for a senator of one party and a president of another. This led to an interesting phenomenon, fueled by the internet: "vote trading." Suppose you were a Liberal Democrat (left) who lived in an area where the Lib Dems ran a distant third to Labour (central left) and the Tories (right). If you couldn't have your candidate, you'd still rather have a Labour MP than a Conservative one, right? So, via the internet, you could find a Labour supporter who was in a similar situation: Labour running third to the Lib Dems and Tories. The two of you agree to "swap" your votes, and hopefully the Tories lose in both areas.
Sounds much more sensible, doesn't it? I can't say as I think that their parliamentary system is better than our federal one when it comes to governing, but it's hard to argue that a five-week campaign system wouldn't be a big improvement on our increasingly lengthy (and increasingly meaningless) sound-bite, horserace-over-issues campaign. Oh, well. Only 39 more days, right? Wake me up when it's over (and pray it's over on November 5th).

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