We don’t have to like our politicians

By Evan Gaudette

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

After the Vice Presidential debate, David Gergin of CNN said “They miss the point: voters rarely scrutinize debates line-by-line, instead making their judgments on the overall tone and performance of a candidate.” He was commenting on journalists saying VP Mike Pence threw President-elect Donald Trump under the bus. If you recall the debate, Pence did throw Trump under the bus, and he also repeatedly lied about Trump’s actions. That quote is so troubling because this isn’t 1960. Nixon sweating on stage shouldn’t cost a candidate an election.

If you count the networks, there are six major news TV stations along with countless online publications, podcasts, radio shows and so on. There is no reason for American voters to make judgments based on “the overall tone or performance of a candidate.” With all the information and channels available, policy knowledge should be at the highest levels in American history.

On a CBS post-debate broadcast, Nancy Cordes, reporting from the Clinton spin room, said “They say [Pence] simply denied reality.”

“They say.” She could have just as easily said “The Clinton camp is confident about the debate because Pence lied and denied reality,” but she didn’t. She didn’t conduct real journalism, but instead played a game of “he said, she said.” These post-debate shows are an example of the wider issues with modern political news. Polls, scandals, and speech coverage can be viewed much the same way. Political news, by and large, is all surface; it is as if doctors only studied skin because that is all you can see.

Media no longer tries to offend. The “politically incorrect” and conservative media often criticizes the burgeoning practice of “safe spaces” while they have essentially created their own. TV journalism is now a mediocre sports pre-game show; they tell us nothing of substance. Most election coverage focused on sensationalized or useless stories. If you want to know “Who did the public think won the debate?” or “How will the latest wiki leak affect the polls?” you could get your answer.

But those things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter who the public thinks won the debate because it’s the journalist’s job to tell us what the candidates said, so we can then learn who won the debate. Journalism is supposed to teach us what we don’t know. Any moron could create a poll on Twitter to find who “won” a debate. Without basic journalist practices like fact-checking, reporting policies (and, more importantly, what the policies mean) and objectivity, Fox News and conservatives have made themselves a “safe space” to say whatever they’d like without recourses. And these practices started far before Trump.

It is unlikely that TV journalism is going to change. The Ted Turners and Rupert Murdochs of the world will always care more about profit than morality. The brunt of analysis is up to us citizens and our ability to be objective. So stop basing your political decisions on whether or not you like someone.

As a liberal, I’ve had a hard time criticizing President Obama because he is so darn likable. But, you know what? Obama hasn’t been perfect. He has enacted many policies that liberals are by and large against, but we ignore them because of his charm and smile. I used to have this hot take where I didn’t like Sandra Bullock. Why? I don’t know, I just didn’t like her. These basic human reactions of dislike or like have no place in politics; objectivity, critical thinking, and questioning are necessary.

There are certain personality qualities that politicians should possess and that should sway voters. Ted Cruz and lack of mental sanity come to mind. But just voting for someone who you could “have a beer with” (President George Bush) or who inspires through superficial clichés (“Yes we can”) or who inspires through fear (Donald Trump) shouldn’t be how we decide our politicians. Steve Jobs didn’t build the world’s most valuable company by being charming; he was innovative, hardworking, and brilliant.

Americans must overcome their emotions and discover rationality. We have to become our own journalists. If you’re charmed, then take a step back and really listen to the words. If you hear something on the news or see it on the internet, question it. Always.

Your politicians aren’t your friends; you aren’t going to hang out. They are your elected leaders, your representatives in democracy, liking them is irrelevant. It’s what they do that’s important.

Evan Gaudette is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]