By Sarah Williams
Today I received a question from a constituent about the debates by our state-wide candidates here in Virginia:
When do they face-off, in a objective neutral debate, before the voters, on neutral turf, no screening of supporters other than simple security measures, no frisking or illicit search and seizure, in front of typical Virginia voters, no packed audiences prejudiced to either political spectrum, no reporters and commentators?
Personally I think this is a bit much to ask, but it is a fair question. Our reality is that the candidate’s message is mediated by the influence of money and powerful groups. The Chamber of Commerce is perhaps the most powerful group. As for money, Citizens United made big business, including energy and banking, the greatest influence in money both directly and through lobbyists.
Money and powerful groups influence voters as well as candidates. In Virginia and elsewhere, voters are manipulated to be more concerned with the deficit than with their own quality of life or the future of their children. Many actually fear that the country is broke when it is not, and to help the country, they lower their expectations in food, housing, education, and wages. Others fear the wrath of God because President Obama is a Muslim and not every citizen is a Christian. So a typical voter cannot be defined by any shared measurable reality like income, family size and type, gender, employment, or age. The electorate is divided along lines drawn by religious and political rhetoric, designed to generate anxiety and move people psychologically rather than rationally.
Publicly-funded elections would solve some problems of influence on the candidate’s message, and later the elected official’s legislative agenda. Manipulation of the electorate will be more difficult to address, and it is hardly possible to envision how we might get to publicly-funded elections without some awakening in the electorate to a shared reality.