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Nichols: US campaign is long, dirty, expensive

POSTED: November 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The presidential campaign has lasted more than a year and a half. To me, it seems much longer. And like many Americans I am glad it ends on Nov. 4. Looking at the process, I can make some observations.

First, I am overwhelmed at how much money this process has required. Perhaps the millions of dollars raised by the candidates and spent by their staffs could have been much more beneficial if spent elsewhere. I suspect that all of Galveston, Texas, could have been rebuilt with some of that political money. Or we could have new schools built, bridges repaired, new hospitals established, greater medical research on, say, breast cancer, or other projects.

I admire the British election process when it comes to money. The campaign is several very short.

hen the prime minister thinks an election is appropriate, he asks the queen to dissolve Parliament and call for an election in just a few weeks time.

The government provides certified candidates free advertising on government-owned radio and television, and requires each candidate running for a seat in Parliament to have a national watchdog who checks all expenditures to make certain they are within the limits set. Then whichever party wins the most seats in Parliament provides its leader to be the new prime minister.

The American presidential selection is much longer and vastly more expensive. It has some bad points as well.

I was shocked by the negative advertising that dirtied the image of the candidate who approved each ad. Some of the statements were simply not true, or taken out of context. The news media spent many hours telling the American voters the factual distortions.

If somebody lies in order to get to the White House, how can we the people of this country, and citizens of other countries, trust the next president to be telling the truth?

I was also dismayed by the language of both John McCain and Barack Obama. Both could easily have been running for a position as emperor, not president. How many times did both candidates promise to cut taxes, save the economy, secure better educational opportunities, better health programs for the middle class and others?

In essence, they said, "Vote for me and I will deliver these programs." Yet both are senators and know full well that the president only proposes such plans. He does not have the power to legislate new programs unless so authorized by Congress.

Look at the first try of the Paulson proposed rescue package of $700 billion. It failed to pass the House of Representatives. Only after many negotiations with the parties in both houses of Congress was a revised rescue bill passed. President Bush had no power to spend that $700 billion until it was authorized and appropriated by Congress.

Both candidates promised to cut taxes and create very expensive new programs. Where is the money coming from? Both candidates apparently would add to the national debt, which is already near a staggering $10 trillion.

On the plus side is the enthusiasm of both major parties. Many young people became involved in the political process for the first time. They worked long hours manning the phones, going door to door, stuffing envelopes and working in campaign headquarters. Every young person who worked in this campaign will have a memory, and I hope it is a fond memory of trying to work for the candidate and programs of choice.

Traditionally, young people do not get very much worked up over campaigns, and they do not vote as frequently as older citizens. This year, our young people got really involved and that is a very good thing for the future of our country.

I hope the current economic crisis does not develop into a disaster like the crash of 1929. My dad was a rich real estate developer in Florida in the boom era of the 1920s. He had money deposited in four local banks. Yet on just one day he lost every penny and was forced into bankruptcy.

I was only 2 years old at the time, so I have no memories of living in a rich man's home. But I grew up in a family struggling to survive those harsh times. I hope we are not headed toward a similar depression. I did not see either candidate fully address the problem of greed, the real root of our current economic mess.

Time will tell whether or not we Americans voted wisely on Nov. 4.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesville times.com.



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