With close aides saying that it is “99 percent sure” that he will run, Ronald Reagan is turning to Hollywood once again for his campaign strategy. The image-makers are working to reshape Mr. Reagan into a caring person. (The fairness issue is believed to be crucial to his re-election.) They are operating on the premise that a majority of the voting public can be swayed by Reagan’s words into forget or not noticing Reagan’s deeds.
So, on national television we see the President expressing his support for civil rights, women’s rights and the environment. We learn that he is “disturbed” by press reports of hunger in the US and therefore is commissioning a 90 day study to find out of these accounts are accurate. Citizen groups reacted with indignant rebuttals, sighting the Administration’s contrary record. Hunger fighters pointed out how Reagan’s Rules forced 2700 schools to drop out of the school lunch program, and howreduced funds are excluding large numbers of needy children and adults from adequate food programs at a time when Americans in poverty have reached a post war record.
Presumably, the show is just starting to hit the road. Most probably we shall be seeing Mr. Reagan extolling the great American wilderness that his Interior Secretary, James Watt, wants to sell off or lease at bargain basement prices to corporate exploiters. The President may soon be displaying concern for the health of Americans while his agencies continue to destroy worker safety and consumer protection programs, and cut back funds for crucial research on the effects of toxic pollution. His speech writers will write words of peace while his military support of dictators and oppressive oligarchies abroad invites more Soviet influence. He will once again talk of balancing the budget while establishing record, staggering deficits year after year for budgets he lobbied through Congress.
The central question of the coming Presidential campaign, in all its foreseeable thinness, is whether this celluloid mass media strategy of saying the right lines will camouflage the wrong doings. Reagan is blessed by the blandness of his democratic opponents whose theory of proper democratic power is not to talk about it.
Consider the maldistribution of power between citizens and corporations, taxpayers and government, voters and campaign monies, consumers and media monopoly—to suggest a few imbalances. Why discuss basics in national political campaigns? Why offer the powerless some intelligent empowerment agendas? It is so much easier hurling slogans at one another and differing over social service transfer payments, That way the game can be controlled by its players administering novacaine to the voters who then are asked to chose between vacuous images masquerading as leaders of the United States of America.
There is another way. It needs some time, a little determination and a pixy delight in making politicians squirm in the public interest. The way is called voter participation before election day. No systematic data are available to inform us how much time the average voter spends to decide for whom to vote. But common observation can tell us that an average voter expenditure of thought and action totaling 30 hours could shake much of the presidential electoral process back to the people.
That’s not too demanding an attention span every 4 years in order to make democracy work better, particularly when one considers the time spent on bingo, bridge, bowling, or watching baseball, basketball and birds. And it can also be fun when people start the motion in their own community.
Citizens can organize “thirty hour clubs” and enlist members pledging to give at least that amount of time to such activities as fact gathering, developing agendas and candidate yardsticks, and arranging town meetings to discuss key election issues they want to highlight. These clubs can also ask to host the candidates when the latter campaign through their town. These non-partisan civic clubs, with broad community support, can become media factors as well as grass root factors all over the country to shape the campaign instead of merely responding to it with yawns and grumbles.
As an example of one important issue that needs to be inserted in every candidates campaign, send for a free report on the Reagan Administration’s undercutting of cancer prevention programs (write to P.O. Box 19404, Washington, DC, 20036).