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COLUMN

Long Election Season, More True Debate

Chen Zhao

With the primary season essentially over in March and eight long months until the general election, we are faced with the prospect of an unusually long, drawn-out fight between Senator Kerry and President Bush. This interesting scenario has a few implications.

With eight months of mudslinging ahead, huge, unprecedented amounts of money will be spent in this general election. President Bush, of course, has the decided advantage in this area, with a war chest totaling more than $150 million and much of it required to be spent before the Republican National Convention late in the summer. Senator Kerry has about one-tenth of that sum, but Senator Edwards and Representative Gephardt are already allowing him access to their main contributors. Kerry plans to raise $80 million by July. So much money being thrown about by both campaigns means that we, and especially those in key battleground states, will be bombarded like never before with TV ads, radio ads, recorded phone calls from the candidates and other party members, glossy mailings, etc.

More importantly, though, eight months means plenty of time to adequately debate the real issues. All that aforementioned money could not be wasted on the same shallow ads with the same carefully staged images and the same uninspired, vague tag lines, such as “Steady leadership in times of change” or “A new direction for America.” Instead, that money could be used to project real messages and real plans for the future of this country.

Just a few weeks into what many are predicting to be one of the most bitterly fought elections in history, the mudslinging is already stealing the scene from the more important issues.

George W. Bush has aired numerous ads and given many speeches labeling John Kerry as indecisive and a flip-flopper. In a speech to the Republican Governor’s Association, Bush said that the Democratic candidates are “an interesting group with diverse opinions -- for tax cuts and against them; for [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and against NAFTA; for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act; in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that’s just one senator from Massachusetts.”

John Kerry is not just lying back and taking this abuse. He actually started the airing of negative, attack ads way back during the primary season. His ads accuse Bush of leading America in the wrong direction and attack everything from Bush’s economic policy to the invasion of Iraq. And, of course, recently, Kerry’s offhand remark to some union workers (presumably when he did not know that his microphone was still on) that “these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I’ve ever seen,” referring to the Republican Party, has incited a torrent of retorts from the Bush camp.

So, thanks to George W. Bush, we know that John Kerry often has difficulty making up his mind or maybe has made up his mind to just say one thing to one group of people and the opposite to another. And, courtesy of John Kerry, we know that Republicans are crooked liars. What I want to know is why. I want the candidates to explain to the country how these statements can be validated. They have eight entire months to explain to the voting public why John Kerry’s record can be called into question and why Republicans are crooked. Or maybe, they could tell us why John Kerry actually does have convictions despite his contradictory statements or why Republicans have not been deceiving the public for who knows how long.

The candidates have eight months to bring depth to their campaigns, eight months to explain the issues. John Kerry’s campaign can stop relying on solely attacking Bush and start letting us know what he would do differently and what his plans are if he is elected. George Bush’s campaign can stop relying on the emotional Sept. 11 attacks to make people want to reelect him and start explaining how, if given four more years, he will do better than he has in the last four.

All the trite lines and artificial images, as well as the negativity, that is dominating this campaign season so far turns people off from politics. People get tired of the same tag lines and attacks. This, in turn, leads to the incredibly low voter turnout that we suffer from in this country. In fact, we have the lowest voter turnout in the world. For a country that promotes democracy around the world -- indeed, according to Bush, we invaded Iraq not because of the weapons of mass destruction (at least, not anymore), but to bring democracy to an oppressed people -- this record is shameful. Call me naÏve, but I believe that if the candidates were to really talk in detail about how they plan to solve the problems that people face everyday, then more of those people would actually go to the polls on Election Day.