Taking Back the Election

You may not care about Ron Paul, but you should care about the way the media directs our attention to mainstream candidates.
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In a letter addressed to "the Ron Paul Faithful" posted last week on CNBC.com, managing editor Allen Wastler defended his decision to pull a post-debate poll that asked readers who they thought had won. He believed the poll had either been "hacked or the target of a campaign" because after a couple hours and 7,000-plus votes Ron Paul was at 75 percent and Wastler hadn't seen him "pull those kind of numbers in any 'legit' poll." This was a fairly reasonable assumption. After all, 71 percent of Republicans polled by Gallup this month hadn't even heard of Ron Paul. But does that mean Wastler was in the right to retract a harmless survey--something even he described as "just a way to engage the reader"--because he didn't like the results? Or better yet, as you might be asking: "Does it even matter? I'm not voting republican and I'm especially not voting for any fringe candidates."

Finding the answer to the first question is complicated and perhaps unfulfilling, as the efficacy of Wastler's decision has been debated somewhat endlessly by both Paul's rabid online support community and other talking heads at CNBC. The answer to the second question, however, is a concrete "yes, it does matter!" You may not care about Ron Paul, but you should care about the way the media directs our attention to mainstream candidates.

There's no doubting that the media has a bias towards candidates that are "electable"--a term that has much more to do with money raised than ideology. Take Ohio Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich as an example. During the first Democratic debate in April, The Nation's Bob Moser, wrote that "As the first big question about Iraq was lobbed at the Big Three--Clinton, Obama and Edwards--the mediocracy collectively pounded away at their laptops, taking down every word in a veritable symphony of typing. When the same question then went to Kucinich, the man who intrepidly preached against the war in 2004 when the others would not, all hands rested. All typing ceased. The music stopped. Attention wandered."

It hasn't just been the media marginalizing Kucinich (The New York Times, for one, hasn't mentioned his name since June and left his opinion of the war out of its coverage of the debates), but his party has also left him high and dry. Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman recently passed Kucinich over for chairman of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, which he was in line to take over.

Never-the-less, polls have shown that the electorate are very much in sync with his positions. Of over 153,000 people who filled out an online form asking for their opinions on 25 issues, 57 percent were found to identify with Kucinich more than any other candidate--Democrat or Republican. This may not be a broad representation of America, but unlike other online polls (the CNBC.com one, included) it was a "blind" analysis rather than a popularity contest, meaning respondents voted on issues, not candidates. Also worth noting is that Paul was the highest ranked Republican with 28 percent of those polled identifying with his positions.

Yet another candidate being left out of the debate is Democratic hopeful (and former senator of Alaska) Mike Gravel. He spurred a lot of "Who the hell is this guy?" interest after the first debate--which by many accounts he won. Then a few months later at a forum held at the NAACP's annual convention, Gravel explicitly attacked Hillary Clinton and John Edwards for authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002, as well as Clinton's husband for the devastating effects of NAFTA on Mexico. Moderator Russ Mitchell of CBS shot down any chance of rebuttal under the technicality that it was a forum, not a debate. Clinton and Edwards were caught on tape conferring afterwards about the possibility of limiting the number of Democrats in presidential debates. Edwards, in particular, said, "We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group."

Gravel poses an interesting threat to the current political power structure. For the past ten years he has been conducting research and working with constitutional law experts to enact a law called the National Initiative for Democracy that would make the people a fourth branch of government. Much like local and state initiatives, voters would have a say on what becomes law in this country. That means people would be able to address issues such as the Iraq war, climate change, healthcare, or even the electoral college.

Ralph Nader has praised Gravel and his initiative, saying "No candidate for President from the two major parties has ever demonstrated such a detailed position regarding the sovereign power of People to amend the Constitution and make laws." Of course Nader's endorsement probably doesn't help Gravel's cause among the Democratic faithful, being that many still hold him personally responsible (and quite unfairly so) for the election of Bush in 2000. It should, however, stir some thought as to why such a disparity in ideology between so-called "fringe" candidates and mainstream candidates within the same party can exist--not to mention why so many people identify more with the "fringe" candidates.

With the primary elections creeping up, Americans should stop and consider who more embodies their opinions on the issues and not who has the most money and power to be a viable force against the other side. When you think about it, that's really a vote for Democracy and a vote against the marriage between the mainstream media and the political status quo that has for too long undermined our values.

Bryan Farrell is an independent journalist in New York, whose work has appeared in many publications, including The Nation. He can be contacted at www.bryanfarrell.com.

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