Op-ed column: Staying ahead of political hype

Unless you live under the proverbial rock (and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea until November

Your correspondent, despite mighty efforts to avoid it, saw his first televised political campaign ad this past weekend. It was for a local congressional district race and, not surprisingly, it was of the “attack” variety. It doesn’t matter to which district or to which political party the target belongs, because soon enough the landscape will be littered (literally) with these ads, crowding out the more tolerable, somewhat entertaining commercials like those promoting DirecTV and eTrade.

Unless you live under the proverbial rock (and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea until November), you’ve heard about the expected tsunami effect that the Citizens United decision will have on political advertising this year. In an interminable campaign season that seemed to start almost immediately after the last one ended, it might be time to consider what would constitute a good survival guide for enduring the campaigns of 2012.

Stay local

There is admittedly a rather thin line between being a practical realist and being an out-and-out cynic. The intent here is to stay in the former camp and avoid tumbling into the latter. As somewhat of a political junkie myself, it was surprising to discover that there really can be too much of good thing. Overexposure may be the quickest route to cynicism, and high blood pressure is a proven killer. It would seem much healthier for mind and body to smartly pick and choose one’s spots.

As questionable as the syntax in the phrase “All politics is local” may be, it is actually a very good rule of thumb for those interested in maintaining perspective in a field awash with far too many (and too frequently heard from) polls and pollsters, pundits and “professionals,” knee-jerk opinions, 30- and 60-second ads, ill-considered and hasty reactions, emotional outbursts and appeals, mischaracterizations and oversimplifications (intentional or not).

These distortions can only take hold where the contacts and contexts are largely impersonal, fleeting and driven by geographically untethered, well-heeled (oft-times secret) interests deeply invested only in outcomes that favor them. The further one ventures from the local and the personal, the more likely the experience begins to veer into that “fun house mirror” effect; coordinately, the more that “outside” groups involve themselves in a local campaign, the more that effect is in evidence as well.

Despite the early appearance of that local ad, there’s still time for consideration on how to survive the local races at a future time. For now let’s address an important, often-ignored, local aspect of the presidential election, clearly already in full gear, that should prove more immediately helpful.

Forget about it

If you live and vote in New York, as well as in about 37 other states, the advice here is as simple as it may be surprising — just set this one aside!

Realistically it’s already over for you because in this beacon of democracy, the United States of America, you do not directly elect the president. The states actually do that through the Electoral College; and lest you think this is just a ritual exercise, consider that — nationally — Albert Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 election but was not elected president.

When you vote, you are only instructing the New York members of the Electoral College how to vote to actually elect the president when they convene some weeks later. It is “winner-take-all” the state’s electoral votes (even though, under some circumstances, they’re not even required to vote as instructed; but that’s another matter.)

Furthermore, in New York, which is almost certain to vote a comfortable margin for the Democratic Party candidate, your presidential vote is not as vital or valuable as one cast in the dozen so-called “battleground” states, where the outcome is more in question. This fact will be evident in the behavior, travel and spending patterns of the candidates. Much attention will be lavished on the issues, voters and airwaves there and anything more than a perfunctory appearance in New York is very unlikely. (If you think this can skew the election process toward themes and policy proposals that favor the voters in this small minority of states, again that’s a matter for another time.) A nice side effect is that we’ll likely be spared a goodly portion of their and their partisans’ targeted — and most caustic — ads, though the national ones will probably wing us nonetheless.

By all means, vote your presidential preference on Nov. 6. It remains your civic duty, and by no means is your vote unimportant. However, given the nature of the system and this state’s political orientation, don’t obsess over it. As I said, it’s over; and for your sanity, you should already be over it too.

Back in the game

Therefore, you can ignore all ads, phone solicitations, pleas for contributions, radio talk show hosts, pundits and cable news shows focused on the presidential election — safe in the assumption that the outcome in New York is all but decided.

If the unlikely occurs and something happens to significantly change things, watch this space. We’ll get you back in the game in plenty of time — and, of course, that candidate who had been ignoring you suddenly and frantically trying to shake your hand will be a big clue as well. In the meantime, you retain a ton of your own time, brain space, good humor and what-have-you for other pursuits.

Don’t thank me; I’m just here to help.

John A. Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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