A Long Essay

The Flyoverland Crank's thoughts on the 2014 2016 2018 Congressional Elections

by Mark Mehlmauer

[This is the first thing I wrote when I decided to give writing a go in 2015. Two years later the Washington DC branch of the Infotainment Industrial Complex is still thriving.]

Part One

Having somehow reached the age of sixty something in spite of innumerable lapses in judgment and a gift for financial calamity, I am now facing my impending geezerhood. According to the actuarial tables, I’ve got about twenty years left, more or less.

Confronting the appalling fact that you’re not immortal has a way of focusing the attention. If someone you know was told that you had suddenly dropped dead from a massive heart attack, stroke, aneurysm or _______ (please feel free to substitute the cause of death of your choice) and would be more saddened (hopefully) than surprised, it’s clearly time to decide what would be the best use of what remains of your threescore (hopefully more) and ten.  

I’ve decided to try my hand at wordsmithing. My primary motivation is to pass on the fruits of my dubious wisdom to my grandchildren. This is so they may, if they’re interested, have my thoughts to guide them after I’ve gone. I’m doing this while they’re still too young to do things like vote because they all still like me -- not one of them has turned on me yet. I find writing to be hard, often tedious, work. If I wait until one or more of them starts behaving like the self important smarty pants I was as a young man my slender motivation might evaporate.

What follows are the thoughts of a sexy seasoned citizen who has been a low-intensity political junkie since high school. I am not a pundit, nor do I play one on TV. My financial interests are not represented by a high-powered lawyer who specializes in maximizing the incomes of the politicians, reporters, fixers and other members of the political industry that he represents, including many who make a comfortable living criticizing the political industry. (However, I can be corrupted under certain conditions...call me).

I realize you know all about this sort of thing so I hate to bother you, but many of your fellow citizens lack your keen insight into just how bad things actually are in Washington, and why. Full disclosure: while I still follow politics, my interest is not what it once was. Having morphed from an idealist to a realist over the years, primarily due to my life happening while I was making other plans, I've become slightly cynical.  

As a young man, I was a semi-radical leftie. I, like many of my fellow baby boomers thought that time + energy = utopia. I’ve evolved into a wild-eyed free marketeer and bleeding heart libertarian, a semi-radical rightie if you will. Life has taught me that utopia is not even remotely possible and that, all things considered, we should be grateful that life on Earth (possibly/potentially/occasionally) is as good as it is.

Have no fear, I mention my personal politics only because I wish to point out that over the years I’ve made an honest effort to figure out what works best. I have no interest in convincing you my political beliefs should be yours (although obviously they should be). I also have no interest in engaging in public political debate or even debating the contents of this essay. Make of it what you will.

I have two distinct but related  themes I’m going to explore. One of them concerns my thoughts on some things you might consider when voting this year. The other one, that I’ll get into first, is that...well, there’s just no way to express it politely so I’ll jump right in. It’s abundantly clear that when it comes to voting, many people, not you of course, don’t know what the hell they’re doing. 

I propose that those who don’t feel highly confident that they know what they're doing should skip voting altogether, particularly in federal elections, if and until they do. While voting competency is important in state and local elections it’s more important at the national level because it affects the nation as a whole, and me, in particular. 

Dude, that’s harsh. Sorry, yes it is, but consider the following. 

On Nov. 12, 2013, the Gallup people reported that the approval rating of congress, which at that point in time had averaged a dismal 33% since 1974, had hit a new all-time low. For the first time since they had started asking people their opinion of how well congress was doing its job, some 39 years previously, the approval rating had sunk to single digits, 9%. Since then it’s improved dramatically, averaging about 15% in the intervening months between then and as this is being written.

Now, if the public, your boss or your spouse felt the same way about your job performance would you honestly be surprised by any dramatic, sudden changes in your circumstances? No, obviously not, unless you’re a cable TV company -- or a member of Congress. 15%, hmm, what might that portend?

Our representatives and senators last faced the public in 2014. That year Gallup's average approval rating for Congress was -- 15%. Approximately 95% of the statesmen (states persons?) who sought reelection to the House of Representatives and “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” kept their jobs. 

Incidentally, google the phrase, "the world’s greatest  deliberative body" in search of who came up with this description of the United States Senate and you will find it is a very commonly used phrase.

James Buchanan is supposed to have called the senate “the greatest deliberative body in the world.” His quote was the closest I was able to come to an iron clad attribution. However, I have it on good authority that somewhere in Washington DC there is a secret Political Hacks Hall of Fame, accessible only to a small select group of insiders that features an exhibit honoring the individual who created the modern version of this phrase.

Anyway, the bottom line is that even when one or both bodies of our bicameral national legislature switches control from Depublican to Republicrat, or vice versa, there ain’t that many folks suddenly in need of a real job. Besides, any of those that are can be easily reabsorbed into The Leviathan as lobbyists, gummit regulators, congressional staffers, consultants, etc.

And now ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for our first Fun Federal Fact! I shall sprinkle these throughout what follows for your entertainment. After all, we’ve become avid consumers of “infotainment,” as opposed to the incredibly boring straight news that was the rage when I was a but a wee lad, several thousand days ago.

[Fun Federal Fact #1: According to the Census Bureau, six of the top ten richest counties in the USA are in the Washington, DC region. To appreciate how impressive this is you must keep in mind that there are, according to the United States Geological Service, 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Bonus fact: The six counties in question are also more affluent than Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands where the locals are full-fledged citizens but their representation in Congress, as it is in Washington, DC, is somewhat restricted. Looky there, two fun facts for the price of one! Never let it be said that the Crank doesn’t give you your money's worth.]

And now back to our show. Some more polling results if you please. On 5/09/13 Gallup released the results of a poll in which people were asked if they could name the individual that their district had sent to the House of Representatives. This is the person that directly represents the people of your area in Washington, DC. 35% said they could, which means (said Mr. Obvious) 65% could not. I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that I’ll bet that an additional 10% of those who claimed they could name their congressperson were lying.

If most of us think Congress does a lousy job, and if most of us don’t know the name of the dude or dudette that represents the district we live in, and if we keep re-electing these same people (as well as the same senators) over and over again, well, it would appear that Mr. Obvious needs to make another appearance.  

We might be doing something wrong, perhaps we should try something different.  

Not you of course, I refer to all those other incompetent yous out there. To wildly misquote president Kennedy: “Ask not why everything is so jacked up, ask why everything works as well as it does.” I propose that the easiest, least complicated way to try something different is for the self-identified, politically challenged segment of the electorate to sit on their hands.

No new laws are needed. No new regulations need to be implemented. No grassroots movements need to be organized. No fundraising is required. Nobody needs to set up a bully pulpit and a teleprompter for some off the cuff remarks. No important/highly placed/occasionally reliable source speaking anonymously because they’re not authorized to speak at all needs to be quoted.

We need not be subjected to party hacks, and certain individuals who may be more interested in selling books or agendas than in actual solutions, shouting carefully constructed talking points at each other on cable news programs. While the Us v. Them approach is much more infotaining than listening to, or God forbid reading, carefully reasoned commentary, and good for ratings or sales, I don’t think it necessarily makes us better voters. Just do it, or rather, just don’t do it, vote I mean.   

[Random Fun Federal Fact #2: The Code of Federal Regulations. The CFR is, as defined by Wikipedia (I’m not ashamed to admit I love Wikipedia as well as the concept behind it despite its critics), “...the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations (sometimes called administrative law) published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States. The CFR is divided into 50 titles that represent broad subject areas subject to federal regulation.”

In other words, the CFR contains the Rules&Regs that unelected bureaucrats have created to carry out the laws passed by Congress. How large is It? It’s huge, but quantifying it is difficult because new Rules&Regs are literally being drafted even as you read this. To give you an idea of just how large it is, try to wrap your head around the following. In 2010 the CFR reached a milestone, the number of specific Rules & Regs topped one million, and there have been five years of rule-making since then. Gently smack yourself on the back of the head, you’re obviously violating at least one of these rules.]  

Tell us, oh cranky one, how will encouraging the uninformed to not vote make things better? I can’t promise that it will, but I don’t see a downside. We need to try something, and what have we got to lose? Congressional approval ratings can’t fall past zero. The House and Senate are a mess. We’re facing serious problems that the current politicians just seem to make worse. These people are apparently incapable of well-crafted compromises that will enable a divided nation to find the best way forward.

In their defense, getting elected, and staying elected, takes a lot of work. And it’s our fault, we sent them to Washington. Well, not you of course, but there are a bunch of other yous out there that despise Congress but keep voting for the same people. We need a slogan, something that starts with -- I don’t know what I’m doing! or, I just don’t care! or, I have enough trouble dealing with the rest of my life! followed by -- SO I’M NOT VOTING!”

But...but it’s our civic duty to vote! Well yeah, sure. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be terribly hard to make an argument that if you can’t name the individual currently holding the position that’s up for grabs you shouldn’t be voting. If you go blind, society has a right to expect you to stop driving. How about some statistics from some genuine mainstream, PhD toting economists to dazzle you with some statistics and impress you with my exhaustive research capabilities (a computer and internet access)?

The aforementioned economists, Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, studied the results of both Congressional and state legislative elections going back to 1898 and wrote a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2001 entitled, “The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote.” In other words, they crunched the numbers from the results of a mess of state and congressional elections to determine how often the results of a given election were determined by one vote. See where I’m going here?

From 1898 to 1992, in 16,577 congressional elections, the results were determined by one vote -- exactly once. So, the odds that your vote will determine the results of a congressional election are... well I don’t know what they are, and I already have a headache from my exhaustive research and have no plans to pursue the matter any further. However, I can state with confidence that the odds are slim to none.  

Well yeah, but it’s possible that... Yes, it is, and it’s also possible that after better than 40 years of purchasing lottery tickets that I may someday win more than chump change. But that fact is not a bullet point on my ever-narrowing list of reasons to bother getting out of bed in the morning.

Part Two

Now, I’m sure there are a bunch of you determined to keep voting. This brings me to my other theme, some things an old fart thinks you should keep in mind when voting in federal elections. But first, it’s time for another Fun Federal Fact! It’s one of my personal faves.

[FFF #3: From the, You Just Can’t Make This um...Stuff Up Department . In November of 2011, the venerable TV show 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about Congress and insider trading on Wall Street. It’s fairly common knowledge that more than a few congresspersons have become rich after being elected to the House or Senate and demonstrating a newly acquired proficiency for stock picking. 

At the time of the expose by 60 Minutes, insider trading laws didn’t apply to Congress because, as happens with depressing regularity, they had exempted themselves from the provisions of the relevant laws. The segment caused a bit of a stir and about six months later Congress passed the Congressional Knowledge act, which had been languishing for years. The act forbade insider trading by congresspersons or their minions and required that their stock trades be posted online. They also threw in a provision that applied the new rules to some 28,000 employees of the executive branch (Mr. Obama’s minions, man that’s a lot of minions!).

Wait for it...

One year later, in April of 2013 the bill was amended. World class statesman Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, concerned that the online data could be used by criminal elements against employees of the executive branch, introduced a bill removing the online disclosure requirements for a few of the president's minions, 27,933 of them.

However, 67 positions are still required to meet the online reporting requirements. By the way, I got these numbers from a Roll Call article because Mr. Reid's office didn’t return my calls. OK, I made up that part about calling Sen. Reid's office, sorry, it was a blatant attempt to sound cool.

Oh, and while they were at it Congress also tossed out the online reporting requirements for their congressional minions, who, of course, would never collude with their bosses when purchasing stocks and bonds.

Fear not, they still have to disclose their trades. If you’re curious about what they might be up to all you need to do is go to Washington DC and sift through several thousand PDF files. If you’re wondering how the individuals you may have helped send to Congress voted on this amendment perhaps I can save you some trouble. Demonstrating that despite the rampant criticism to the contrary, when the chips are down a bipartisan compromise can be reached and action taken.

The bill passed, unanimously, in two days. There was no reading of the bill, there was no debate. Introduced on a Thursday, it passed the next day (TGIF!) and everybody headed to wherever it is they head on a Friday night inside the beltway to unwind after yet another hard week of running the country. I’m sure you heard about the media firestorm that ensued once the watchdogs of the press we count on to keep these guys in line got wind of this. You didn’t? Me neither.]                       

Ok, now, let’s get into my other theme… “Whoa your crankiness, if the odds of my vote determining the outcome of a given election is about as likely as the Clintons announcing they are retiring from politics, and since they have achieved one of life's most important goals, kiss my grits level wealth, they will shut up and leave us alone -- why should anyone bother to vote?”

There are well-meaning, intelligent people out there that argue just that. They’re wrong. Yes, your vote is unlikely to be the deciding one, but unless Vladimir Putin (talk about cranky) or someone like him starts running things around here, we, as a group, still decide who is (temporarily) in charge.

Now, this is the part where you bring up your pet conspiracy theory. Not you necessarily, but a not insignificant number of the yous out there. This argument holds that voting doesn’t matter, that __________ is in charge (or will be) and they only continue to let the people vote so they think they are still in charge. Please feel free to insert the name of the villain of your choice into the conveniently provided blank: the rich, multinational corporations, the Illuminati, the pope (not the current one though, he seems nice), Justin Bieber, etc., I’ve been hearing this all my life.

There are now more devices containing a SIM card than there are people on the planet Earth. So, why haven’t you posted that selfie of you and Bigfoot hanging out at the mall on your Facebook? More importantly, in the age of informational overload, the ever expanding cloud and charming people like Julian Assange (did the CIA kill him yet?), where’s the proof that __________ runs the USA?

If _________ is secretly in charge he/she/it/they must not be very good at what they do because if they were it would be much more efficient if they just enslaved us and were done with it. That’s what I’d do, and I will if I ever get the chance. Fortunately for you I’d be a benevolent tyrant. 

Come on guys, if your boss and/or your boss's boss, the company you work for and the zany gang behind the counter at your local DMV are any indication of how competent our masters are on a day to day level, we have nothing to worry about.

There’s no shortage of thugs in the world gleefully oppressing the masses for fun and profit. There’s also no shortage of micro-thugs in the USA exploiting loopholes, monopolies, the tax code, low skilled employees etc. Thus has it ever been, thus shall it ever be. If or when a world class thug should come to power in the US, you’ll know it. It’s the micro-thugs in your life hiding in plain sight that are the problem (see FFF#3). Micro-thugs, like stink bugs, can only be controlled, not eradicated. This can be accomplished by informed people voting and living intelligently.

Now, if you’ll stop interrupting me, I’d like to offer some advice along those lines. We must be ever vigilant, there’s no shortage of predators waiting to prey on the virtuous and there is no shortage of stink bugs stinking up our lives. I make no claims that what follows is all that you need to know or even that things will get better if you follow my advice. That said, tell your predatory lawyer to go sue someone else.  

I recently spoke with Mrs. Obvious about this very subject and she pointed out that congressional term limits would be the easiest way to deal with the problem of a nation that correctly understands Congress is a mess but is too __________ to do anything about it. In an effort to blatantly pander to my readers I’ve helpfully left room for you to pencil in the appropriate word of your choice (lazy/busy/incompetent/high/cynical, etc.). If it’s legally impossible for the politically challenged to return the same people to office for decades on end, we’re protected from each others occasionally dubious choices. 

While it would still be possible to vote based on your gratitude for the fact that the politician in question got your _______ -in-law a job (and off of your couch), it will prevent them from remaining in office so long they have to literally be carted to work.

From the New York Times, 6/27/10: “In the final days of the health care debate, Mr. Byrd appeared for several crucial votes -- pushed each time to the Senate floor in his plaid wheelchair and greeted by handshakes and applause from his colleagues.” Senator Robert C. Byrd voted with the Senate to pass Obamacare on 12/24/09, he died six months later at the age of 92, may he rest in peace. 

Term limits have worked well at the presidential level. If you get elected president, you’ve got three years to prove you were a good choice and get something done. You may even get a second chance. Yes I know, presidents, in theory, have a tough four-year gig to deal with before spending the rest of their lives collecting a pension and being one of the world's best paid after dinner speakers.

In case you missed it though, the fourth year will be mostly taken up with trying to get reelected, or getting someone from their party elected. If they do well, they might get a second shot. Even if they don’t do very well they may still get a second shot if the electorate thinks the person or persons (hey, it happens) running against them might be even worse than they were. This is the Better the Devil You Know option. Why can’t we do something similar at the congressional level?  

This is a great idea because even if a given incompetent or corrupt congressperson or senator manages to fool most of the people most of the time, the damage to the nation as a whole won’t be as bad. Also, once they move on, there will be a job opening (we could certainly use more of those) and we might get someone better, and these are good paying jobs with plenty of perks and a pension.

At the moment we have any number of highly experienced folks who have worked hard all their lives that have either given up on finding work, or whom are subsisting on crappy jobs and wondering if they will ever get to retire or if they will drop dead building Big Mac’s. Hey, you want fries with that?

The big fat fly in the ointment is the fact we would have to pass an amendment to the constitution for this to happen. The constitution has quite specific rules about congress and they don’t mention term limits. The Supremes ruled in 1995 that neither congress (as If!) or the state legislatures (23 have tried) can impose term limits on Congress. Passing an amendment to the Constitution requires that two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote yea and that three-quarters of the state legislatures agree.

I’m certain you already know this, informed voter that you are, and I apologize for inconveniencing you, but I’m trying to reach the uninformed yous and make sure my grand-kids have a chance. In my semi-humble opinion, it should be difficult to pass a constitutional amendment, but in this particular instance it sucks sweaty socks. Call your congressperson or senator and ask them if and when Congress will be voting on a constitutional amendment concerning congressional term limits. Once they, or more likely the minion that answers the phone stops laughing, I’m sure they will be delighted to discuss the issue with you.

[Fun Federal Fact #4: The Texas State Legislature.  “Wait a minute oh King of Cranks, I know for a fact Texas is one of the fifty states, what is the Texas legislature doing in an essay about The Gummit?” That’s easy, consider this.

Texas has one the largest economies on the planet. Having done some more exhaustive research, I discovered it’s number 14,  or 13, ...or maybe tenth. It depends on what year and what sort of criteria you use smarty-pants. The point is, it’s huge and currently enjoying one of it's regular economic booms.

By law, the state constitution, the Texas Legislature convenes in odd-numbered years, for 140 calendar days. Olivia Obvious, Mr. and Ms. Obviouse's daughter, points out that that’s less than five months, every other year.

To quote the immortal Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”]

Part Three

Now, in your relentless pursuit of information in order ensure that you vote responsibly and intelligently I’m sure you’ve encountered the phrase “the Depublican (or Republicrat) brand.” There’s even a website called thedemocraticbrand.com. There’s not much there, there besides a homepage that discusses the importance of marketing candidates, which we are informed is not spin, it’s framing.

I’ve no idea if the sites owner hopes to sell the domain name someday or he just never got around to doing much with the site. But Andrew Gold uses a phrase within his introduction to the site, “...at the end of the day it’s not facts that matter to the public; it’s their perceptions.”  

Yup. That’s why politicians are sold to us the same way potato chips are, and by the same people. Marketing works. Well, not on you of course, you see right through all the smoke and mirrors. I mention potato chips, and not one of the other gazillions of products we don’t need but want, because George Will,  _________, (please fill in the blank with the label of your choice: conservative writer, right wing nut, most astute political commentator on the planet Earth, etc.) pointed out in an often referenced column back in ‘08 that America spends more on potato chips than it does on political campaigns. I know I do.

The marketing of politicians is what I’m going to get into next but before I do I must briefly mention campaign finance laws. This is why I cleverly teased you with the potato chip reference above. Is there too much money in politics, do we spend too much money on potato chips? I’ve no idea. I do know I agree with the notion that money spent on politics is a form of free speech. It’s a (mostly/semi/relatively/sort of) free country and I should be able to spend as much money as I want on a politician or a cause. Period.

There should no campaign finance laws. And though it sounds like a great idea, there should be no list of who gave what to whom. Campaign finance laws don’t work, never have. Politicians love to pass them and then keep updating them to close loopholes. The updated laws will invariably have new loopholes which must be updated. This enables the politicians to regularly and repeatedly solve the perpetually pernicious problem of the corrupting influence of money on politics without ever actually solving the perpetually pernicious problem of the corrupting influence of money on politics.

Could you please send a modest donation to Senator/Congressperson __________ to help with our reelection campaign so we can continue to fight the good fight and solve the perpetually pernicious problem of the corrupting influence of money on politics? They forget to mention the money and name recognition advantage they have just because they’re incumbents and that their opponents need plenty of dough to level the playing field.

The only good purpose these laws serve is the economic activity generated by people in the political industry (lawyers, consultants, party hacks, fixers, reporters, etc.) spending money to create, report on, and/or exploit loopholes.

There are always loopholes, there are always weasels exploiting them. It’s rather like the attempted prohibition of substances that give humans much pleasure but if used unwisely have significant downsides, such as potato chips -- human ingenuity, and the profit motive, will find a way.

Published donor lists don’t work either. In the age of the permanent campaign, which we we will get into in just a sec’, donor lists are meat for politically correct attack dogs. They don’t want to just defeat you, your candidate or issue, they’re prepared to slit your throat on the altar of their noble cause. Nothing personal, it’s what’s best for the country.

An informed citizenry (I don’t mean you, you know what you’re doing), a rabid press concerned with reporting stories of more importance than Justin Bieber's new tattoo or who wore what to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an opponent more interested in a term limited bite of the apple in order to make things better for everyone than in just a lucrative job that can last as long as they can prove they’re still breathing -- these are some of the things we need to deal with money in politics, not more laws.

[Fun Federal Fact #5: The White House Correspondents Association.  According to its website, “The WHCA represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the administration on coverage-related issues.” According to Wikipedia, “The WHCA was founded on February 25, 1914 by journalists in response to an unfounded rumor that a congressional committee would select which journalists could attend press conferences of President Woodrow Wilson.”

The WHCA website, in its section detailing the history of the organization and which doesn’t mention the rumor story, states that the press and Mr. Wilson didn’t get along for various reasons, one of them being that he accused them of printing material that was supposed to be off the record. He threatened to stop giving regularly scheduled news conferences, and eventually followed through. The original mission of the WHCA was to keep this from happening. Sounds about right huh? The press versus the government, impartially ferreting out the truth.  
not affiliated with or approved by the White House Correspondents Association
Flash forward to the present. We now have something called the WHC Insider, “...not affiliated with or approved by the White House Correspondents Association…” that describes itself on its website via the following statement. “This micro niche site explores ‘behind the scenes’ of one of the most powerful clubs in America, those journalists who have had and currently have the title White House Correspondent.”

In other words it’s the media covering  the media, primarily for, the media. By the way folks it’s not just a diner for ink stained wretches and the current president to make nice and raise some scholarship money (it’s original purpose) that’s devolved into the roll out the red carpet look at all the pretty people extravaganza that’s given saturation coverage by the media that covers the media. It’s a whole damn weekend of such folly (check out the site). We can all sleep well knowing the press is on the job.]         

Ok, where was I…, oh, marketing. Just as marketing never sleeps in the commercial sector via the commercial sectors endless commercials, we’re now subjected to the endless campaign of politics. At least all those (new and improved!) commercials (do you ever wonder if the marketing geniuses ever wonder if so many commercials may cause us to not want the merchandise?) are about getting us to buy crap from each other which helps the entire economy. The politicians we choose, and rechoose, with the help of the permanent campaign, often helps out the select few of the special interest group at the expense of the many.

Google the phrase/concept/technique known as The Permanent Campaign and you’ll discover that Pat Caddell, who’s still making a living as a pollster and consultant, is credited by many as a major contributor to this phenomenon. I’ve often seen him serving as a talking head and he strikes me as a reasonable and intelligent gentleman and I bear him no ill will.

He wrote a  memo back when he was working for president Jimmy Cah-tuh (of lust in my heart, malaise, problematic presidency but endlessly tries to make up for it fame) after he had been elected but before he had assumed office. In a great Wikipedia article that serves as a concise primer on a complicated subject, the following is attributed to Joe Klein writing in Time magazine, “Essentially,” Caddell wrote, “it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign.” At another point in the same Time article Mr. Klein wrote, “Strategies of this nature have been in active development and use since Lyndon Johnson, where priority is given to short-term tactical gain over long-term vision (my use of the bold button…).” So don’t try and blame it all on Mr. Caddell.

But people already know this, all of them, at least to some extent, the entire Obvious clan quickly points out.

Not just the political junkies, the politically indifferent as well. Anyone that’s unaware of the onslaught of political commercials that flood the airwaves (cable signals?), the signs that sprout like poisonous mushrooms and the flood of chatter (that’s already a rising river) from the pundits just before federal elections should seek professional help.

Sure, I reply in a condescending tone, but are they aware of the fact that it’s considered normal, no, even worse, it’s considered standard operating procedure for the campaigning to never end? That the 24/7 news media is delighted to provide a platform to help make it possible all the while bemoaning  gridlock, spin, partisanship and the like?

James Fallows, in an article published in the online edition of Atlantic (7/17/13) quotes one Joseph Britt, identified as a former “aide to a Republican U.S. senator” as saying, “One thing that’s changed in recent years is the emergence of the people who do campaigns for a living as a powerful and effectively organized interest group themselves. It is the pollsters, strategists, and other campaign operatives, after all, who are the chief beneficiaries of the continual fundraising that Senators and Congressmen now do.”      

Fox News fans, and you of course, know all about this because...

[Permit me to digress for just another sec’. While I don’t spend much time watching Fox News I do keep track of what they’re up to. Theirs is a right wing perspective and so is mine after all. Fair and balanced? Yes, they do try and make sure the other side has its say but the reason they’re so popular is because of their right wing orientation.

There are more than a few of us that have the same perspective and they provide a different take on the world than the one promoted by most of mainstream media, Hollywood and academia. I’m certain this is deliberate. I’m certain this is the reason for their success. I’m certain that making money is more important to them than ideology. They’ve identified an under served market and like any good entrepreneur they succeed by filling a need or want. 

It’s not really a news channel though, we don’t actually have one of those to watch. It’s yet another infotainment channel and straight news is only a component of infotainment. They give the “folks” what they want. Well, not you of course, you’re above that sort of thing.

To their credit, “Special Report,” which isn’t a special report but that’s what they call their version of the nightly news, is the only nationally broadcast straight news show available around the time the big three (ABC, CBS and NBC) crank out their daily dose of what they claim is straight news. The big three nowadays all have an obvious (ask Olivia) leftward spin. If this isn’t obvious to you you now have another legitimate reason to stop voting in federal elections.

Ok, let’s see...oh yeah, Fox News. While I’m not a big fan, for the same reason I’m not a big fan of any of the prime time shows on Fox News (ratings first, infotainment, people talking over each other, if it bleeds it leads, etc.) I’m fascinated/appalled, in a train wreck sort of way, with Frank Luntz. Not Frank Luntz personally, I don’t know him but he’s probably a very nice man.

Frank Luntz has a website to promote what he does for a living. The home page has quotes from people talking about how good he and his firm is is at doing what they do. What do they do?, they provide the words needed to sell the chips, or anything else.  According to the site, “...you get language that is tailored specifically tested, researched and perfected, using innovative polling, comprehensive market research, and instant response dial sessions –- we make sure you know exactly what your audience wants, and needs, to hear to shift support to your business, your issues, or your goals...word by word, phrase by phrase.”  

The instant response dial session is some of  the schtick he uses on various Fox News shows. He puts a focus group together and tests their reactions to political commercials. You get to watch self identified Depublicans, Republicrats and independents react in real time via an electronically generated graph as they watch political commercials and/or speeches and “vote” on how they feel about the commercial.

He and the host then ask questions designed to get an argument going, red meat for these kinds of shows. Chips or politicians, makes no difference to him as long as the check clears. I’ve got no problem with Mr. Luntz and I hope he’s making a fortune. My problem is with the fact that the marketing of politicians and issues is so mainstream that they don’t discuss whether or not this is an indication of a nation in decline, they discuss whether or not the commercial is effective or not. Politicians or Pringles, what’s the difference?

I’d like to send Doc, Marty, Frank Luntz and the DeLorean time machine back to the late 1700’s. I’m going to organize a contest and let my readers choose the exact year. It will only have two rules. Choose a year and explain why that particular year was chosen, in 25 words or less. The decision of the judge is final. The prize will be free potato chips for life from __________ (I’m hoping for a lucrative endorsement deal, hey, a cranks gotta’ make a living.)

Anyway, I’ll have Mr. Luntz put together a focus group of founding fathers(and mothers of course) and ask questions about what they think of the concept of the permanent campaign. The results should be, enlightening. Then he can use a neuralizer borrowed from the Men in Black to erase their memories of the experience. Full disclosure: I’m not above making a deal with a pen manufacturer as well, have your people call my people.

Ok class, let’s review. I’ve pointed out that several years of consistent polling results clearly demonstrate that as a group, Congress is held in the same high esteem as cable TV  companies and stereotypical used car salesmen (salespersons?). Given the passage of plenty of time and the lack of evidence to the contrary suggests this is view is correct. However, the nation keeps returning the same people to congress and isn’t losing much sleep over the fact that some of these people remain there for years and years.  

While the nation as a whole has never really recovered from the Great Recession and the real unemployment rate is north of 10%, the Washington DC region is doing great. If you don’t understand the difference between the generally reported unemployment rate and the real one, U-3 v. U-6, may I respectfully suggest you don’t vote until you do.

Also, don’t rent a truck and head to the Washington, DC region in search of the good life. Most of their prosperity is generated by people in the rest of the country doing real jobs so the locals would prefer you stay home, keep working hard, keep voting for the same people and above all, pay your taxes.

The career politicians, even the ones you think are on your side, are sold to you the same way any other product is marketed to you because it works. The media we need should strive to serve as a reliable, objective filter of the flood of information now available. The media we have are often as not a profit and fame seeking segment of the political industry.

But Your Crankesty! Don’t leave us hanging out to dry! Tell us what to do!

Pshaw! ain’t nothin’ to It!  (For the record, I don’t actually talk that way, I sure enjoyed writing it though.) Get involved in the congressional term limits movement. Follow politics via several conflicting sources and learn just  enough to be able to say, and mean it, that you know enough to vote competently.

Be a hero. Vote as if your version of congressional term limits is the law of the land in spite of the fact you’re not entirely comfortable voting out that old fart that has represented your district since Moby was a guppie because of all the power he or she has due to the obscenity of congressional seniority.

Go totally crazy and find out what something called Public Choice Economics is, there are smart people waiting to explain it to you on YouTube.  Hint: “politics without romance.” Calming reassurance: there’s no math to deal with (which is why even I understand it), it’s mostly common sense. Motivation: you’re gonna’ say, “Why haven’t I heard about this before, it makes so much sense!”   

[Final Fun Federal Fact: Congress clears the dance floor. The big band, or swing band era predates even me, but I’m certain most folks, even the kids, have at least a vague notion of this period of American history.

You can probably call up a mind movie (probably in black and white) of a stage full of musicians in matching suits playing Benny Goodman/Glenn Miller/Duke Ellington style music in a smoky nightclub. A lot of people are dancing, a lot of them are wearing uniforms, a lot of couples are having dramatic conversations during the slow numbers.

The women are vowing to be true, the men promising to return as soon as they’re done saving the world from Hitler and Tojo.This sort of music started in the 1920’s but didn’t become a national craze until about 1935, by 1945 it was dying on the vine.

When the men and women of the greatest generation finished saving the world and returned home after WW2, they discovered Congress had passed a cabaret tax in 1944, of 30%. This was essentially a tax on dancing. If a given establishment offered anything for sale (food and drink for example) and provided music (live or recorded), Uncle Sam had to be paid if people got up to dance

Americans stayed home rather than pay the tax. It was supposed to be repealed in 1946, it was just to help pay for the Second World War. It was gradually reduced but not completely eliminated until 1965, it helped to destroy most of the big bands within a few years of the end of the war. And that’s one of the reasons why the work of Duke Ellington, genius and the greatest composer America has produced so far, is appreciated by so few people today. Well, not you and me of course...]

Have an OK day.

P.S. Since writing the essay above, which actually dates to 2014, I've continually updated it though I didn't know what to do with it 'till I started this site in 2015. I've since stumbled on an idea that should have been included all along, sunset provisions.

It's so obvious it reminds me of when you see a commercial for a product that in hindsight, seems so obvious, you wonder why you never thought of it. All laws passed by the Congress of the United States of America should have an expiration date. 

Instead of a given law being allowed to become encrusted with the rust, dirt, and moss of an ever expanding budget and an ever growing cadre of bureauons, a future congress will have to renew it, update it or toss it in the trash.

Have an OK day.

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