Thursday, December 8, 2016

Democracy for Hire (Dennis W. Johnson)

Democracy for Hire: A History of American Political Consulting is a candid look into the world of consulting in political campaigns.  Dennis W. Johnson’s work details the rise of political consultants, pollsters, and campaign operatives, and how political campaigns and politicians have been transformed because of their impact.  The author provides tremendous insight into all of the facets of a campaign that many of us claim to hate: negative commercials, direct mail, and campaign calling.  He also discusses how campaigns have utilized more and more of our consumer data to help craft advertising and approaches geared toward demographics, neighborhoods, and even preferred Pandora stations.

When I was through, I felt like I needed to take a shower simply from learning more about the inside working of politics at a level that will make many stomachs turn and simply leave many others exasperated with the political process.  However, politics in this country is big business; over $6 billion (with a B) was spent on the 2012 elections and a higher amount is likely to have been spent on this most recent election once all is said and done.  There are third world and tropical countries with lower gross domestic products than our electioneering process.  Johnson argues that business is continuing to boom for campaigns and politicians, fueled in large part by money pouring in from mega-wealthy interests that will wage issue-oriented campaigns or set up organizations that are for or against candidates.

After trying to wash the stench of political consultancy off, I looked for glimmers of reform and hoped that Johnson could come up with some salient suggestions on how to bring some sanity to the spending.  The author advises caution and vigilance on our part to avoid falling into the "faux news trap" (his words, as opposed to the more viral “fake news” term that’s trending now) and wishing we would see through the noise to select the best possible candidates.  Those are good places to start, but they won’t change the reality that elections are becoming ever less substantive and
ever more divisive, and consultants are making a boatload in the process through their roles in shaping that reality.