Thursday, 4 October 2012

US Election: How Much Is Too Much?

by Sophie Carver

In the past, America has been celebrated as the Land of Plenty. Its influence as a global power - combined with its popular culture - creates a mentality inundated by hopes and dreams of achieving more for yourself, your family and your country. But has the USA lost its way? The country, once great, an emblem of immense power and strength in the face of struggle, has fallen into a cesspit of hyper-consumerism, over-spending and over-campaigning, leading to an overwhelming sense of capitalism gone wrong.
This is more evident than ever in the current election cycle, with a predicted $5.8billion to be spent overall on the November elections (Presidency, House and Senate): that is roughly £12 per person, 23 times (proportionate to population) that of the British elections, and up 7% from 2008, the previous record-holding year for excessive election spending. It is no wonder that even its own citizens believe that they “…live in an age of excess consumption, unmerited expectations, unbridled greed, and an unfounded sense of entitlement.” (Dr Slosar, The Culture of Excess, 2009)
The massive campaign fund for the two presidential candidates could be attributed to the fact that both of them opted out of the public finance system – a government-run system that offers to match whatever the candidate can raise, but caps the amount. Barack Obama was the first candidate to ever opt out of this in 2008, and it is argued that that is why his last few weeks of campaigning were so successful compared to his Republican rival, John McCain. Now that both candidates (Obama and Republican Mitt Romney) have opted out, they are free to spend whatever amount they can raise; but this in itself creates problems. To raise this sort of money takes large amounts of time and energy, both of which are taken out of the already-strained resources of the candidates. More time fundraising means less time spent with the average voters and, for Obama, less time spent concentrating on his current job as President.
Not only has the election spending reached an all-time high, but the proportion of attack ads (adverts endorsed by candidates that attack another candidate running in the same election rather than promoting themselves) has risen to almost two thirds of all campaign adverts. Many voters view the adverts as chances to bash their opponents, rather than campaign for themselves, which turns off a huge amount of political interest in America. The constant point-scoring directed at one another is off-putting for the general public, and so risks a decrease in turnout, the very thing that they were created to enhance.

Although seemingly obvious, there is no realistic way to ban hateful ad campaigns or gross amounts of funding. In ideal circumstances, it would be possible to cap candidates’ spending to some degree, and declare negative advertisements unlawful. However, the constitutional right to freedom of speech encompasses both, and therefore any meaningful ban, or even limit, on the over-spending and attack adverts would not be viable in America as it stands.

This culture of spending billions of dollars just in campaigning is becoming very dangerous, very quickly. The concentration and willpower required to raise these sorts of funds detract from the candidates’ real potential, and make them appear as cheap and nasty game-players, rather than serious, intelligent options for President. It is cruelly ironic that the people who spend the majority of their time raising money for current and future elections, while creating personal adverts slamming their opponents, are the ones with the power to change this corrupt, capitalist system. When the election campaigns are based on personality, the ability to entrust the country to the future Commander-In-Chief personally is vital, and, at the rate at which American politics is going, this will undoubtedly become impossible at some point down the line.

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