*Most people have the ability to vote, the desire to be entertained, but unfortunately very little knowledge of public policy. This combination leads to some of the worst aspects of Presidential campaigning because the people asking the questions pander to the lowest common denominator in the audience.
This is always more of a problem for the party that is challenging for the presidency than it is for the incumbent; the incumbent has a four year history to address. The challenger is in the position of playing “what if” so there is more room for questions like whether the candidate prefers boxers or briefs as Bill Clinton found out in 1992, or whether or not previous comments would be an impediment to election as Mitt Romney was asked earlier this year.
Outside of the questions that clearly should not form the basis of whether a candidate gets your vote, there are local issues and peripheral issues. Local issues are tricky because they are important to the people in a certain area, Arizona’s law regarding the ability of law enforcement to verify the citizenship of anyone suspected of breaking the law for instance. The entire country might be interested in this law but the amount of Latin immigrants and migrants is not enough for states across the country to enact such a law. In other words, no matter how interesting it will be to watch as Arizona flirts with racial profiling, there is little chance similar laws will be passed in North Dakota or Maine.
These local issues should not be addressed by presidential candidates. The President will no doubt be representing the folks of Arizona but that does not mean he has to have an opinion on every issue that affects them; nor is he supposed to have a solution for all of their problems. Each state has a governor whose job is to look at these state issues and implement the best plan of action. For the President to do so would mean 50 separate plans and most likely very little being actually done. On the contrary the President is supposed to help institute policies that help the entire country.
Peripheral issues are those that might affect the entire country but are not necessarily critical to the election. Medical marijuana is one such issue. Some states have legalized its use while others continue to criminalize the drug. A federal law would standardize its use nationally but such an issue is very low on the list of important things the President needs to address. For someone going through chemotherapy this issue’s importance is magnified, but for most Americans it is an afterthought.
Indeed some issues are local and peripheral. Nevertheless they should not be given time in any official forum where presidential candidates give their qualifications for office.
The problem is that the campaign season is extremely long – especially for the party challenging the incumbent. Over two years there are only so many ways to ask “what ails the economy?” Inevitably a reporter goes off the beaten path and gets a reaction from the public prompting more questions off the beaten path. You might say this illustrates the core of the problem: the need of the people to be entertained (even when the stakes are as high as a presidential election) and the ability to entertain them (us) with stupidity.
To be fair issues can move from being local (gay marriage) or peripheral (Grenadian foreign relations circa 1980) to being an important part of the national discussion. So there should be a stretching of limits. But stretching limits does not include question about underwear preference.
Over the next few months let’s stay on topic as a nation. There is plenty to like or dislike about President Obama based on his record on the economy, social issues and foreign affairs. There is plenty to like or dislike about candidate Romney based on his plans for the economy, social issues and foreign affairs. When a book is written 200 years from now about the United States from 2012-2016 those are the things the winner will be most responsible for and remembered for.
Let’s let the important issues decide this election.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.