It gets better, right?

Column | Swimming upstream

I’m just glad it’s finally over.” That seems to be the most common answer I get when I ask people what they think about election season. To be honest, I don’t blame them for feeling that way. After a solid year of campaign commercials, nauseating 24-hour news coverage, and painfully scripted speeches, who wouldn’t want a break from the circus that American politics has become? This country spends a quarter of every presidential term immersed in frivolous election pageantry. In the meantime Congress grinds to a screeching halt, millions of dollars are squandered on campaigns full of empty promises, natural disasters are turned into political spectacles and foreign policy goes out the window entirely.

The irony in all of this is the fact that, despite the ridiculous amount of time the candidates spend trying to secure your vote, the election is still decided more on personality and party affiliation than on policy. You would think that, with the exorbitant amount of time and money the United States spends on election campaigns, the majority of voters would be well-versed in a wide variety of subjects. Instead we are bombarded by catchphrases and slogans, while most attempts at a serious debate about issues like foreign or environmental policy fall on deaf ears.

Has it always been like this? When did we stop demanding critical, informed discussion and start accepting the pathetic excuse for public discourse that has polluted our homes for the last few decades?

Think about this for a second: This year a man stood on a stage in front of thousands of people and millions of viewers and joked about how silly his opponent was for trying to “slow the rise of the oceans” and — even after witnessing the largest storm to ever hit the northeast less than three months later — actually had a legitimate chance of being elected. Think about the message that sends to the rest of the world. But it’s not just a candidate’s ignorant one-liners or his disgraceful foreign diplomacy that contribute to the abysmal reputation of U.S. election politics.

For example, President Barack Obama’s campaign raised and spent nearly a billion dollars for this election — and the Mitt Romney campaign wasn’t far behind. Let me run that by you one more time: They spent almost a billion dollars just to let everyone know how awesome Obama is — or rather, how terrible Romney is. I wonder how different things might be if our candidates spent as much time and money actually fixing the country as they did trying to convince you that they’ll fix it?

Unfortunately, we may never know the answer to that question. The funny thing is, one of the reasons that candidates have to spend such grotesque amounts of money and time on campaigning and political advertisements is because without the money from campaign contributions, broadcasting companies would be less inclined to cover the campaigns in the first place. Meanwhile, the media makes it seem as if third party alternatives are virtually non-existent.

The point isn’t that all political campaigns are evil and should be abolished — although that argument could certainly be made. It’s just that when it comes to choosing the next leader of the free world, we would be much better off if we got rid of all the bells and whistles and focused more on substance. The first step toward achieving that goal should be a concerted effort at the individual and grassroots level to change the way we get our information and the way we think about politics in general. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight, and it’s not something that can be accomplished without cooperation. It will be a long and frustrating process, but there has never been a time in history when social change was as accessible as it is today.

It may not be easy, but if countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria can find the courage and motivation to break free from generations of institutional oppression and political apathy, I see no reason why this country would be unable to gather the social momentum necessary to fix our own system. We have the next four years to get it right, or we’re liable to find ourselves in the exact same position in 2016 saying, “I’m just glad it’s finally over.”

Joe Amditis is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in criminal justice and political science with minors in psychology and criminology.

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