Any Functioning Adult

I’m writing this on Leap Year Day, February 29, which means we’re in a presidential election year. This sticker expresses my feelings about it exactly:

I don’t know about you, but I still have a monster case of politics fatigue left over from 2016. As National Review columnist Ian Tuttle wrote then, we had “two small groups of extreme partisans fighting on behalf of horrible candidates, and a sea of voters in between disheartened by two miserable options.” We don’t yet know whom the Democrats will nominate, but I’ll bet you anything that Tuttle’s statement will remain true throughout this election as well.

I see that Raskolnikov’s strategy of inciting Democrats to fight each other, leaving the party broke and exhausted and unable to take on Trump, seems to be working, though US intelligence is finally catching on, obviously in response to my warning. Where Plattski and DGMS lead, the federal government eventually gets around to following. If Microsoft had let me run that piece when I first wrote it, for April Fool’s Day of 2017, we might have avoided all this of trouble.

I have to admit that I loved watching the giant clusterfuck of the Democrats tallying up the Iowa caucuses. Even several days after the event, the party couldn’t report all the results, and even after reporting them, couldn’t guarantee their accuracy, in fact STILL can’t at the time of this writing. Hysterical! I can’t wait to see what they do with the general election.

Technology has drastically changed political campaigns since my younger days. Listeners who followed the 1960 Kennedy – Nixon debates on the radio (beta-level wireless audio streaming, for you millennials) scored it as a draw.  But viewers who watched on the brand-new medium of broadcast television (sort of an early YouTube, OK?) overwhelmingly favored the younger, charismatic Kennedy over the older, saggier Nixon. The shift in technology caused a shift in voter responses, which one side recognized and exploited, while the other did not. Teddy White’s excellent book  The Making of the President 1960 describes this campaign in fascinating detail.

Political organizations now recognize the importance of technology. But that leads to saturation and resultant fatigue on all communication channels. I sat next to a guy from Alabama in an airport bar in the fall of 2017. He complained that the special election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions had attracted all kinds of money and resources from outside the state, and now both parties were ruining his life.  He was getting spammed around the clock – home phone, cell phone (illegal, but still done), email, snail mail, Facebook, human door-knockers; everything. I suggested he file an absentee ballot, buy a burner phone, and flee to Miami for the duration. But that’s harder to do for a presidential election.

Social media platforms have to decide how to operate in today’s environment.  I want to applaud Twitter for banning all political ads – goodness knows I don’t want to see them – but that denies the choice to any user who is interested. (I’ve yet to meet this person, but I deduce that they must exist.) Perhaps that setting should be made configurable, as I suggested in my October 2016 plea for a political content blocker, “A Technical Solution to a Political Problem“?

Facebook has said they won’t be vetting political ads for truthfulness. I have no problem with this either, though a configuration setting would be quite interesting: “Political Lies: Off/On”. Is this something AI could detect? What kind of data set would you train it on – “Here’s a video of my opponent eating live gerbils”? And do you tell the AI that one is true or false? If you set Political Lies = Off, do you get any political content at all? Although let’s face it: even in fields other than politics, if you are depending on Facebook to shield you from falsehoods, I have this bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

I cannot close this column without renewing my eternal election-year call: Lie to the exit pollsters. In fact, lie to any and all pollsters, anywhere and everywhere. The control they exercise over our society is revolting, but it’s easy to disrupt. If you voted for X, say you voted for Y, and vice versa. If you made up your mind a long time ago, tell them you just made it up today, or the other way around. If they ask your age, add or subtract five years, whichever you think you can get away with; it might push you into another bracket. If they ask your gender, you’d probably better tell the truth; it might be a control question. If everyone does this, we’ll have a delightful election evening of watching the prognosticators fall on their faces—the funniest night of political foolishness since Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, even funnier than the Iowa caucuses. Now let’s go to it.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve always wondered if that Nixon-Kennedy debate “trusim” about Kennedy being regarded the winner by TV viewers but Nixon as winning by radio listeners, was this the result of voter self-sorting? Perhaps voters who listened to a debate on the radio tended to be older and more conservative folks who were already predisposed to Nixon, whereas younger and more liberal types watching on the still-new TV platform already preferred Kennedy.

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    1. That’s a very interesting thought, which I hadn’t considered. In fact, take it one step further. Cable and satellite as we know them didn’t exist, so only over-the-air broadcasting delivered a signal. The TV stations at the time tended to be in the large cities. Just the population who had TVs at the time would skew urban, hence at least somewhat Democratic. Thanks for writing.

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