The Permanent Campaign was written by Norman J. Ornstein and Amy S. Mitchell. This article appeared first in The World & I, in January 1997. Norman Ornstein is regarded as one of our nations foremost experts on Congress. Mr. Ornstein received a Ph. D.. from the University of Michigan, he writes for the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and he has a regular column in Roll Call newspaper called Congress Inside Out. Mr. Ornstein is also an election analyst for CBS and appears frequently on television shows including the Today Show, Nightline and the Mac Neil/Lehre News Hour where he has been a consultant and contributor for Mr. Ornstein is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and is also an advisor and member of the Free TV for Straight Talk coalition.
The coalition is a group of 80 leaders from the worlds of politics, corporations, broadcast journalism, the entertainment industry and public interest groups. They support giving political candidates free air time on TV to promote their political views without the medias input. He has authored or co-authored recent books such as How We Can Get Out of It, Debt and Taxes: How America Got Into Its Budget Mess, and Intensive Care: How Congress Shapes Health Policy.
Amy Mitchell is a journalist whom graduated from Georgetown University, she has written may articles concerning government and the media and was a congressional associate at the American Enterprise Institute for four years. She is now the staff director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. The CCJ is an organization of editors, producers, reporters, and producers whom are concerned with the future of the media. They believe that right now is a crucial moment in American journalism and it is time to it down and talk about the core principles and function of journalism.
The Article The Permanent Campaign takes a look at the way the American political system has evolved over the years. When George Washington was president he did not campaign any before he was put in office. When he was in office he only made a few public appearances and when he did he didnt speak a word. During Washingtons era political campaigning was considered undignified. Now the whole philosophy has changed. Before the 1992 election was even over the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report ran a story on the possible Republican opefuls for the 1996 campaign.
We have gone from a country who denounced campaigning to one in which candidates start campaigning for seats that havent even been decided in the current elections. Andrew Jackson changed everything in the election of 1824 when he decided he would give his personal opinion on the issues. He received the most popular votes and the most electoral votes but the House of Representatives cheated him out of a legitiment victory when they elected John Quincy Adams president. Jackson ran again the next term and won the election and changed the presidency forever.
After Jacksons success future candidates for president now have to find a way of responding to the people and still try to accommodate their political parties tradition of silence. By the 1880s the trend was to bring the issues and candidates to the people. Soon candidates began to travel by train and do whistle-stop tours where they would go from town to town and make speeches. In 1892 Grover Cleveland gave his nomination speech in Madison Square Garden in front of a huge crowd. Traditionally these speeches were given only to the party leaders.
This effort to bring the candidates closer to the oters had dramatic effects on the way elections were being conducted, many states started having primary elections to judge the parties candidates popularity. After the riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 reforms were finally made and now candidates would be chosen directly by the voters in the primaries instead of the party officials just using the elections as a poll to the popularity of the candidates, then making their own decision as to who to choose as the candidate.
After the advent of the television the political system changed once again. The eople could now here and see the candidates every day, even live. This took great skill by the candidates and their staff to figure out ways to use the media to their advantage. The radio was also becoming a great way to talk to large numbers of people. With all of the media exposure that a candidate receives these days every candidate by 1980 had a full time media strategist on had to control spin. Ronald Reagan is a great example of a candidate who used the media to his advantage.
Reagan always seemed to feel at home in front of the camera and he controlled the involvement he had with the media for his Political polling was introduced in the 1920s and it would also prove to change the way candidates campaigned. In recent elections George Bush made his pollster, Robert Tetter, the chairman of his re-election committee. Teeters polls showed that people had little interest in health-care issues so Bush neglected speaking on the issue and it hurt him in the election. While Bush was in office the Republicans used Teeters polls to set party policy and the polls also helped shape some White House policy.
Bushs reliance on the polls, however, was pale in comparison to the amount of polling he Clinton White House has done. During his first year in office the Democrats spent $1. 9 million on polls compared to Bushs first year total of about $400,000. When the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress their success was based largely on the Contract With America, an agenda based on numerous polls conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz. The contract used terminology that was shown to be effective and easy to understand by the people according to the polls.
Democrats and the Republicans now rely heavily on frequent polls done to assess public opinion in hopes to gain voters. Some people totally discredit even the most scientific polls but there is no question that these polls are here to stay. How did we go from being a country that denounced any campaigning at all to one that demands media exposure of our political system almost constantly? My answer is that it just took time for the democratic process to be fully understood. For the first fifty or so years in our country voters elected the people that their political party wanted them to vote for.
This seems to me to not convey the spirit of democracy which is to have the government ran by the people the voters choose. When andidates decided to talk directly to the people, voters began to listen to the actual candidates instead of their party leaders. The advent of our communications systems has given us a greater understanding of the world around us and therefore we are able to make better decisions on who to vote for because it is easier to find information on candidates with the same viewpoints that you may have.
Today candidates know the people are not going to just vote on a smiling face and winning personality, people now demand (or should demand) to know where candidates stand on issues. With the Internet, TV, and radio anything a candidate says can be crutinized almost immediately. Candidates know that they are always being watched so they have to act like they are campaigning all of the time. I believe that if media scrutiny of our candidates continues to escalate at the rate that it is now it could only be detrimental to our political system and more importantly our government.
While it is great that we know more about our candidates than we ever have before, there needs to be some sort of a line as to what the media will report. More often than not our media tends to focus on the negative aspects of our government and our political system. We never hear stories about how welfare helped a single mother get back on her feet after a layoff or a divorce, all we hear from our media is how some people have six welfare children.
We are at a point now that our media can control the destiny of a political candidate, if some reporter gets an unfounded report on a political candidate and runs a story that may not even be true people are still going to listen to the story and more newspapers etc. , will cover the story because they think that the story may sell. When they discover that the accusations are not true most of the time they have already labeled hat candidate as immoral or whatever, so when they recant the story on the back page of the Food section the damage is already done.
All that these types of stories do is degrade our government officials and our political candidates, when this happens it promotes a general distrust of our government. When our society really begins to completely distrust anything and everything our government tells us this country will be I believe that if we scrutinized our media as much as we do our candidates our country would be much better off. We have become a country of instant gratification and short attention spans. When we want information we want it now and we want it fast.
People need to start considering the sources of the information that streams so easily throughout the country in our media. The line between fact and political opinion is becoming harder and harder to distinguish every time you read a newspaper. In conclusion whoever controls the media controls the vote. If the media likes you and decides not to dredge into your past personal life you have got it made, but the second they turn on you and start reporting on negative aspects of your life you are more than likely doomed politically.