Presidential campaigns have become obscenely expensive, last far too long, and seem to bring out the worst in cable-TV hosts. But the real shame is that the next president will be chosen by relatively few citizens who are arguably the least informed.
Pundits and pollsters call them "independents," "undecideds," or "swing voters." To the rest of us they are, to put it gently, seriously naive.
The vast majority of Americans know very well whom they're voting for in November. They don't need $2 billion worth of campaign ads to decide, because they're aware that when it comes to the presidency we're electing a political philosophy, not a person.
In primaries it's fine to focus on shades of policy differences and even minutia like whether jeans trump sweater vests. But that's over.
If you're still unsure how you feel about health care, taxes and the debt — to name just three of myriad issues on which the two parties differ sharply — then nothing in a stump speech is going to help. Undecideds are the Justice Anthony Kennedys of presidential politics, and like him they seem to revel in their role.
Ask members of the GOP base why they vote as they do and you hear things like, "smaller government and lower taxes; people need to fend for themselves." Ask Democrats and it's, "compassionate government and fair taxes; we must help those who cannot help themselves." Ask an undecided, as the networks manage to do almost every evening, and it's, "I need to know more about where the candidates stand; I'm not hearing any details, what are their plans?"
Really? Both parties have outlined their plans in such voluminous detail that few people are able to wade through it. In fact, as members of both bases know, it's not that the positions are mysterious, it's that they're so painfully clear.
Take gay marriage: Obama's for it; Romney's opposed. The issue may rouse passion but it's insignificant when it comes to picking a president. Yet, Mr. Obama's recent disclosure about his position produced headlines like this one in the San Francisco Chronicle: "President gives voters reason to choose sides."
No! It doesn't give any knowledgeable voter a reason to choose sides. The marriage thing is, and will continue to be, handled by the states. The president's views are symbolically important, but anyone whose vote would swing on gay rights is bastardizing the electoral process — at least under our current system.
Undecideds represent somewhere between 6 and 8 percent of the total electorate; however, they can only affect the results in fewer than a dozen "battleground" states. So, when you boil it down, there are about 3 million voters in the U.S. who actually pick the president. The campaigns will combine to spend about $650 on each of these votes by people who should know better.
According to the Gallup organization's records from 2008, most undecideds dawdled until deep into September. Then, as summarized by Susan Page of USA Today, "By Election Day, the number of uncommitted voters nearly disappeared."
Nearly disappeared? Does that mean some undecideds will still be on the fence come Nov. 6? What will finally sway them? Michelle Obama's outfit when she casts her vote that morning?
If Newt Gingrich is sticking to his assertion that Mitt Romney is a liar, yet now supports him, that should provide a clue that this is about party not personality.
One of the nation's most articulate liberals, former Sen. Bill Bradley, when asked on CBS what would help swing voters make up their minds, said: "How people feel about the two candidates once they get to know them better."
Please. Barack Obama has been in office for three years; Mitt Romney has been running for president for much of his adult life. Getting to know them better — and paying less attention to critical policy differences — won't help anything.
Unless the day comes when we have more than two viable parties, or if Republicans and Democrats decide to stop treating governing as an all-or-nothing proposition, then we're stuck with red or blue. The purple people are driving the rest of us crazy.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.
©2012 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by: Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate. For more info contact Cari Dawson Bartley. Email [email protected], (800) 696-7561.