Signs of the times hardly encouraging |

Signs of the times hardly encouraging

Alan Braunholtz

These signs annoy in at least two ways. They’re an eyesore and proclaim much more about the sad state of our democracy than the candidates whose names adorn them.

Hopefully they’ll all be reclaimed by their distributors and gone in two weeks. But the brand name superficial mentality of us, the American public, is here to stay.

These signs say nothing about anything. They’re merely a name flashed like a corporate logo. No beliefs, no philosophies, just a name and perhaps a nondescript photo.

Apparently all that’s needed to get our vote is name recognition. We stride into the booth, firmly clasp the pencil of power and think, “Oh, I don’t know. Oh look! Yes I saw her name a lot. I’ll vote for her. She must be nice.”

Sounds stupid but it must happen. Why else all these signs popping up like dangerous fungi?

OK, so signs in front of a house may make a connection between the owner and the candidate. “So and So’s a good guy and if he likes him, maybe I should too.”

Though it can work in reverse ways as well: “He supports that chap? What a jerk.” Though judging people by their politics is never a good idea.

But I think this is unlikely, as few of us know our neighbors anymore and still what about those anonymous groupings jostling for position at highway exits? Sometimes I feel like placing a rogue sign in these groups. A nice blue Saddam Hussein placard might upset the bland synergy a little and jolt the thought process of passing motorists.

Still it’s our fault. If we all paid attention to what our candidates did, we’d get a much better democracy. Instead we let the signs and infomercials brand us.

Few candidates help by actually taking a public position these days. It seems that most blend toward the results of the latest opinion poll and tell us what they think we want to hear. Leaders are supposed to see future problems and lead, guide and cajole us away from them.

Shepherds don’t only follow their flocks around, too afraid to upset them.

Any politician who takes a strong stance gets my respect, but maybe not my vote, which is the problem. Nice sounding nothingness, combined with mudslinging ,at opponents works better than being honest.

When I care about an issue I find a non-aligned citizen group that also cares and see whom they recommend. They follow the voting records and know who did what.

Personally, I think we overlook the importance of a healthy environment in our lives and focus too much on short-term economics, so I vote for politicians who keep the environment in mind. I’m always amazed how politicians with horrendous environmental records suddenly rediscover their populist environmental voice at election time.

The League of Conservation voters lets me know which ones are environmentally friendly and which ones aren’t. In short they’re biased toward the environment. FYI, they recommend Udall and Strickland.

If we bothered to stay informed, then campaign finance would be less of an issue. All these junk mailings, signs, TV and radio slots would be seen as what they are, adverts or propaganda.

Candidates wouldn’t need a huge war chest to out spend their opponent on these infomercials. At the moment they do and the best source for big campaign dollars are people and corporations with big pockets.

Inevitably, we move toward a government beholden to the wealthy groups that paid. These groups certainly can get value for money in tax breaks and subsidies. For example in the ’90s, the oil and gas industries gave $45 million to congressional candidates and received subsidies of $1.8 billion. This pandering makes no sense to the taxpayer (or the environment) and is the result of democracy for sale.

Amendment 27 seeks to reduce the effects of large “donors” on politics and force candidates to appeal for funding from the citizens they represent and not only the wealthy special interest groups. It also enforces disclosure of who is backing campaigns. It seems at the moment vested interests form “educational committees,” give them a misleading name and anonymously attack what ever they want.

You may find that a committee on the lines of “rural citizens for green meadows” is, when you burrow into the financing, a timber industry consortium. I have a rule for any political action groups. If the group has a history and known financing, at least they’re being honest and are proud to say who they are and what they believe in. For example the Children’s Defense fund or Sierra Club are known entities that wear their agendas on their sleeves. They do not aim to mislead.

Fluffy sounding names with no history springing up overnight from the darkness of deceit often aim to mislead. If you can’t be honest about yourselves, why should the public believe you?

Ironically, the groups fighting pro and con on Amendment 27 subject themselves to my rule rather well. For campaign finance reform, we have Common Cause (a known group with an agenda against politics and big money) and Coloradans for Campaign Finance Reform, a simple self-explanatory title. Against we have the jingoistically named Protect Freedom committee. I half suspect that special interest groups support “Protect Freedom” alarmed at the thought of any loss of influence. But you only have to look at the names, an understated and clear Coloradans for Campaign Finance Reform or the gloriously melodramatic Protect Freedom. Enough said!

Alan Braunholtz, a ski instructor and raft guide, writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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