“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”— Winston Churchill.
Churchill’s question begs the question “who is the average voter?” In a world that is dominated by pop culture and irrelevant “news” where voter perception thrives on false mythology; it is a cheap shot to mischaracterize the average voter as stupid.
Most voters are not stupid. However, they are overwhelmed by their own lives, uneducated on public issues and misinformed by an increasingly biased and malevolent media. Hence, the substance that forms the Churchill opinion.
The result is that elections are often determined at an emotional level, not factual discourse and reasoned analysis. Campaign professionals understand the dynamic and easily manipulate the electorate. Current law, such as Citizens United, have exacerbated the problem as “the Big Lie” has become standard fodder in a society that values the unregulated free-flow of ideas, even false ones, over the public right to receive honest and credible information.
In short, the real problem lies in the inability of the electorate to distinguish between true and false messaging, neither are they able to discern between fact and opinion.
The FCC is readily able to regulate commercial speech. If Listerine claims to help prevent the common cold, as they once did, the FCC can fine them for dishonesty and force them to issue a retraction. If the same standards applied to political campaigns; the Koch brothers, Karl Rove and others would not be able to fund or produce swift boat ads, birther ads, or other anti-Obama ads with impunity. The same standard would apply to Democrats; who are either more ethical than their republican counterparts or, more likely, not as creative in making stuff up.
Given the first amendment, the inherent appearance of conflict of interest based on outcome and the current inability of partisans to be reasonable; utilizing government as the arbiter of truth, fiction, fact and opinion is not a good idea.
Years ago the nonpartisan Santa Clara County Campaign Ethics Commission established a process that had a real effect on campaigns. Stakeholders, including the Democratic and Republican parties, signed an agreement to withdraw their endorsement from any candidate who was found to be lying in their campaign materials.
It was a complaint driven system that was used only once. But the idea is a good one, had a positive and should be pursued. If the public had a credible arbiter who, regardless of political philosophy, had a system to alert voters of untrue information, it would be of great public service.
Much has been made of the money in political campaigns, but the real tragedy is in the misinformation distributed by campaign dollars. If the public knew the Koch brothers were lying to them, then informed voters could reject those claims. For as we all know, money alone is not enough–if it were Meg Whitman would be Governor of California.
But until voters in our democracy can tell truth from fiction and fact from opinion; our political system will continue to be mired by results that are neither fairly informed or in the best interests of those who vote.
While flawed, the same Winston Churchill summed up the current situation thus; “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the forms of government that have been tried from time to time.”