Appalling Lack Of Interest In Presidential Campaign

Posted: March 29, 1988

LOS ANGELES — This may be the year in which we finally receive an answer to the question, ''What if they held an election and nobody came?" From one region to another, the electorate is exhibiting intense disinterest in the candidates fielded by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The mascot for this year's campaign ought to be the little varmint now under consideration by the California legislature as the state's official mollusk: the laconic and uninspiring banana slug.

The hype surrounding Super Tuesday, the combined primary circus that was supposed to make the South rise again as a political force, didn't spark the interest of television viewers. Of the 68 network shows broadcast during Super Tuesday week, "Campaign '88" coverage came in dead last.

On CBS, only 8 percent of the available audience tuned in to learn who won the primary races, while 39 percent watched Olympic figure skating, ice hockey and luge on ABC.

Why this appalling lack of interest?

Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, thinks he knows.

"None of the presidential candidates utters a word that lifts your heart," he says. Furthermore, "the system is a serious mistake that's steadily getting worse."

Minow doesn't like the primary gauntlet that candidates are forced to run. He prefers the "brokered" or "open" conventions that were the rule prior to the reforms instituted in the early 1970s to broaden participation in the selection of presidential candidates.

Minow sees such a process as a kind of "representative democracy," not unlike the way Congress works, where those elected represent their constituents. Minow believes that by letting party professionals, including elected officials at the national, state and local levels, select each party's standard bearer, we would have higher quality candidates from which to choose. He reasons that such professionals "would be better judges of the potential presidents than the average voter can be."

It's fair to say that today there is a general confusion as to what kind of leadership voters want. But it's clear what they don't want: candidates who lack charisma.

Writing in the March issue of Rolling Stone magazine, William Greider summarizes the findings of a major survey of the Baby Boom generation, those often-polled 18-to 44-year-old Americans. Says Greider, "When this generation looks at politics, even the most familiar names seem boring . . . Despite the youthful activism of two decades ago, this generation hangs back from politics. Only one in three said that he or she followed the news regularly. Only 6 percent said that they regularly volunteered for campaigns or contributed money . . ."

What's it going to take to rekindle the fire that has gone out of American politics? I suspect it will take some candidates with the guts to articulate well-thought-out domestic and foreign policies based on sound ideological truths, fueled with personal conviction and based on historical precedent.

This Baby Boom generation has been largely self-centered and unaware of the forces that have driven men and women toward the common good or, in the opposite direction, toward the brink of destruction. They want "peace" and ''justice" - but don't know where to turn to achieve these twin goals.

The Rolling Stone survey reveals a chronic and widespread naivete among the Baby Boomers. Theirs is idealism without pragmatism; a confused hodge-podge of dashed dreams and diminished hopes. As Greider writes, "Above all, what this generation seems to yearn for is that which it lost - moral leadership." Having dispensed with the old morality, this generation has awakened too late to the sleight of hand performed by the social deceivers in academia and the media who sold them the old immorality packaged as new morality.

After throwing off the shackles of restraint and resolve, this generation now laments the consequences of its own choices. If their souls are impoverished, it is because, to draw from Allan Bloom's book, their minds have been closed.

Many of these Baby Boomers suffer from retarded moral, spiritual and intellectual development that has kept them from seeing beyond their own personal needs.

Perhaps until these Boomers catch some enthusiasm about their country and its future, Newton Minow's suggestion for brokered conventions might not be a bad idea.

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