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Opinion Pieces
September 11, 2004
A Hoe/House Instead Of The Madhouse?
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   By Joe Klock, Sr.
   "In war, truth is the first casualty," wrote Greek dramatist Aeschylus a few centuries BC.
     He might well have been foretelling the present mores in law, journalism, diplomacy, and - most pertinently at the moment - American presidential politics.
     As the lies fly and the liars wallow in that malodorous pigsty which national campaigning has become, I've reached a state of bathroom sickness about the entire system.
     With undecided voters barely into double-digit percentages, it is fairly clear that most of the electorate has made up its mindlessness, based on incomplete and/or skewed data, prejudices, selfish or narrow interests, negative influences and the half truths (read camouflaged lies) being illegitimately fathered by multi-million-dollar propaganda programs.
     It reminds me of the only dumber system I've ever heard about, about which I wrote a number of dumb election seasons ago.
     It involved a Third-World (approaching Fourth) nation in Africa which was bereft of voting machines, pollsters, computers, talking heads, and even butterfly ballots.
     Since very few citizens owned radios, much less television sets, mass media were not a factor.
     Moreover, the fact that so many of the more than nine million eligible voters were illiterate made printed ballots dysfunctional, and lengthy pieces of campaign literature would have little more impact on the electorate than a Yogi Berra monologue.
     What to do? Well, here’s what they did: Lacking the enormous talents and almost limitless resources that are being thrown into modern American campaigning techniques, these pathetically backward bumpkins came up with a system which, by our enlightened standards, would be regarded as ludicrously simplistic.
     Candidates were permitted to make speeches and prepare campaign literature, but with some daunting and unusual restrictions, to wit:
     Neither candidate was permitted to address a gathering of any size unless his opponent was also on the platform and permitted to address the same audience.
     The candidates had to agree on times and places for campaign speeches, or neither of them could speak at all. Therefore, there was equal exposure of both candidates, not only to their own supporters, but to those of their opponents as well.
     Similarly, they had to agree on campaign literature, in which the space had to be equally divided between them.
     It was mandated that the covers would display the names and pictures of both candidates, together with a distinctive symbol which also appeared on the election ballots.
     Thus it was that in one national election, the pictures of one Japhet Nguraio were accompanied by the representation of a hoe and those of his opponent, Ole Mejooli, were shown with the sketch of a house.
     Their need to agree on the size and content of each piece of campaign literature nullified the advantage of either their celebrity or financial muscle by rendering the candidates equal whenever and wherever the literature was circulated.
     Fortunately (or maybe not), our lofty levels of literacy and resources are such that restrictions of this kind would be regarded as neither necessary nor desired by American politicians.
     But suppose our candidates were prohibited from appearing in public except at the same times and on the same platforms as their opponents?
     And what if they had to agree to divide evenly with their opponents the space available on all printed material as well as air time on radio and television?
     Wouldn’t that create a level playing field for both the "in" guys and the "wannabes?" And wouldn’t it do the same for both the financial fat cats and those with limited budgets? And wouldn’t it compel the electorate to hear both sides of the issues and encourage head-to-head debates? And save a pot-full of money? And reduce the output of sleaze, innuendo, half-truth and smear? And clarify the issues? And simplify the voters’ decisions?
     If we adopted a “hoe or house” approach, we’d put a lot of spin doctors out of business, but we’d also refocus our electoral process on the issues, rather than such extraneous subjects as long-past military records, irrelevant personal peccadilloes and pointless sloganeering.
     We’d also eliminate the deplorable custom of spending millions of dollars to obtain a temporary job paying less per annum than one at-bat in major league stallball.
     If you think that uncivilized election process in Africa was weird, imagine yourself trying to explain our system to one of them!
     We already have the elephant and the donkey in place, and more than enough justification for a fresh start. Maybe it‛s time for some primitive thinking!
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