Politics and Society

Table of Content

Media, money, and the First Amendment are three key influences in a successful political run. Media coverage is important to familiarize the public with the candidate and to show where he stands on certain issues. Money is needed to buy television and radio time. The First Amendment guarantees everyone the freedom of speech, but how can this be reasonably defined. One possible solution would be restrictions on the amount of money that individuals can donate to support their candidates.

Modern media has influenced and possibly altered the history of politics. As stated by Washington Post reporter Dan Morgan, “The most valuable commodity in American politics today is advertising time on TV.” The problem with this statement is that only the people with money have access to this option. Republican campaign chairman, Mark Hanna, was quoted saying, “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second is.” In support of this quote, millions of dollars are spent on political campaigns in one week.

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One example of this problem is demonstrated by Ralph Nader, the candidate for the Green Party, who is not as well-known as George W. Bush or Al Gore. His popularity has lagged because he does not have the funds to buy as much television time as the other, more funded, candidates. When Nader, ran for Presidency in 1996, he only spent $5,000 of his own money and received only one percent of the votes. Also, on October 3, 2000, he was denied access into the third and final debate at Washington University, and as a result, he filed a lawsuit against the Commission of Presidential Debates. Even though all the necessary passes were presented, the CPD security still would not let him enter onto the Washington University campus, where he had a previously scheduled interview with the campus television station. In contrast, when multimillionaire Ross Perot ran for presidency as a third party in 1992, he received almost a fifth of the votes because he could communicate with the public through paid media and debates. Unlike Ralph Nader however, Ross Perot was leading the race up until July, when he dropped out of the race because of negative media that his family was receiving. When he reentered in October he spent over $37 million of his own money for campaign ads and infomercials in the final month of campaign. Perot was allowed to participate in the presidential debates, a privilege that Nader was denied.

The appearance of a candidate on public television is very important. If a person is able to identify the face of a politician and what he has said in campaigns, then that candidate has a better chance of winning. The physical appearance of a candidate can be a decisive subject in an election. During the election of 1960, Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy were contrasted as two completely different people. Nixon was depicted as “Nixon-of-the-five-o’clock-shadow” and Kennedy was described as “handsome and youthful.” The result: a new youthful president. Also, in 1984, Ronald Reagan appeared to be in a confused state of mind during a debate and the thoughts of old age affecting the candidate’s ability to fully function as President seeped into the minds of many people. During the second debate, asked if he would be able to fully function in a foreign policy crisis, he responded by saying, “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” This one statement allowed the candidate to survive the talk of the media about his age.

Media is the only way most of the population of the United States finds out what happens in politics. Television is unique in the sense that it is “free” media because of the Communications Act of 1934, which was created to serve “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” The media concentrates on making the most interesting stories, but instead, they should concentrate on informing the public about issues that are being discussed in debates and conventions because the majority of the general public does not know enough about politics to understand what is being discussed in debates and conventions. For example, when President Bill Clinton admitted to using drug paraphernalia during his campaign in 1992, the media played it over and over instead of concentrating on the issues.

No matter what restrictions are set on the contributions to the parties, there is never going to be a “level playing field.” It is important to keep restrictions because the third parties do not receive an amount of funds anywhere close to what the other parties receive. Also the third party has to worry about receiving at least 5% of the votes in the federal election to receive federal campaign funds during the next election. Without all this money, they are at a great disadvantage, because they cannot pay for all the television time and campaigns. Which in turn causes the public to be unfamiliar with the candidate. Another problem with a media dominated world is that well-funded candidates can buy all the airtime on all the large news stations to keep low-funded, third parties from appearing on television.

The restrictions set on the limit of the amount of money any one individual, political party, and political action committees are not violations of free speech. If no limits on contributions were set, all the wealthier people would get represented by the government while the lower class people, who cannot donate as much money, would not get nearly as many benefits from the government. In 1996, approximately a tenth of a percent of the population donated more than $1000, but the contributions added up to about $168 million. On the other hand, 80% of the population donated nothing at all. Large corporations that contribute funds directly from their treasuries are violating the right of free speech of the employees. As Bob Dole stated in his 1996 campaign, “No American should be forced against his will to give to a political agenda he doesn’t agree with.” Some of the employees only contribute funds because it is required even though they do not agree with the issues. Unfortunately, there are always loopholes in laws. For example, to avoid violating the Tillman Act, some corporations give all their employees large “bonus” checks with the understanding that they would send it as a contribution to their “endorsed” candidate. In, 1996, the total amount donated by corporations equaled close to $250 million. This money could have been used to upgrade equipment to the latest in technology by corporations, or it could have been used to pay off a mortgage or other bills by individuals, but instead it was used to help fund candidates that some of the contributors do not even agree with. If the corporations could be strictly restricted from contributing money to political organizations, then the money would flow through the economy into projects that affect all people positively.

The contents of a political ad, should not be governed by rules because it would violate the First Amendment, the freedom of speech. To a certain extent, there should be no rules against slandering. It should be allowed as long as the party can support the issues with legal, trustworthy documents. This provides not only the truth about the candidate getting slandered, but also a real view at what kind of person you are actually voting for: one that concentrates on finding out “dirt” on the opponent or one that concentrates on the issues that matter.

The infamous “Daisy Ad” proved to be one of the very first negative ads in political history. In 1964, Barry Goldwater, the Republican extremist, gave a speech during a Republican convention that haunted him for the rest of his campaign. The first part of his famous line stated, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” This created a stir by the media, which caused Lyndon B. Johnson and his campaign team to produce an ad that was known to be the “Daisy Ad.” The ad featured a girl counting petals on a daisy while a voice in the background counted down to zero from ten. At the count of zero, a giant mushroom cloud is shown. Even though the ad only aired on television for one day, the message shot across the nation. This ad suggested that Goldwater would get “trigger-happy” during the nuclear age and cause a nuclear holocaust.

In conclusion, media and money determine how well a candidate does in an election. If the candidate is well-funded, then he can buy million and millions of dollars worth of media time, such as television and radio airtime. The First Amendment insures that the rights of the people are not violated. Even though restrictions limit the amount of freedom one has, it is necessary to keep candidates honest in the funding of the campaigns.

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