News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Battle of sound bites still better than bullets

It’s difficult to avoid a sense of disgust as the presidential campaign strays farther from the issues and deeper into the realm of character assassination via sound bite. Today’s message-cluttered environment seems ripe for this kind of political mudfest. Yet it’s interesting to note that even the earliest U.S. presidential campaigns were seldom dignified affairs devoid of low blows.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson became president in a tumultuous, slander-filled election that included a deadlocked electoral college and massive political duplicity as the race was finally decided by the House of Representatives. (A spinoff from this political skullduggery was the legendary duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr). The accusations hurled between the candidates included church burning, murder, and treason. So much for “the Age of Reason.”

All the same, when the U.S. was founded, newspapers and speeches were the prime media for political discourse. Even the most far-thinking of the founding fathers could not have dreamed of 24-hour news channels, talk radio, the internet and bloggers. With a long political season and a voracious need to feed the media mill with more grist, today’s political campaigns have devolved into a stream of nastygrams for an electorate suffering from attention-deficit syndrome.

As my level of disdain rises, I remind myself that sound bites are still better than bullets when it comes to deciding who will govern. Throughout much of the world, a colonel with crack military unit is a much more effective political ally than a cynical political operative like George Stephanopoulos or Karl Rove.

Politics is a bare-knuckles contest. When you consider that Clinton, Obama, and McCain are vying for the most powerful political office on the planet, we are indeed fortunate that words are the ammunition in the battle they are fighting.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez