Herb Paine: Lessons of the Elections

December 04, 2012

The law of diminishing returns states that there’s a point where the more you invest, the less you get.

The 2012 elections proved that point pretty well. After spending nearly $6 billion in the presidential elections and millions in Arizona, what have we got? Continued gridlock. A divided government. The same partisan bickering that everyone and their mother said they want to end.

But, we also have some important lessons out of this recent exercise in democracy.

We have learned that the once great power of words -- like change, liberal, conservative, choice, compromise -- has been corrupted, compromised, and trivialized by misuse and overuse. They have been drained of their meaning in the colander of political spin.

We have learned that politicians have mastered the art of campaigning but are failures at governing. It appears far easier to slice and dice your opponent rather than the issues that really matter to the well-being of the state and the republic; to subvert the common good to the special interests of a few.

And, as far as issues go, what was not spoken was more revealing about the maturity and depth of today’s politics than what was spoken. Think about all the issues that barely if at all received mention in the billions of dollars’ worth of advertising: poverty in America; climate change; the immanent shortage of doctors, nurses, and teachers; energy; cyber-terrorism; and foreign policy in a world that is more volatile and fragmented than it ever has been…

Oh, the list goes on…and we all would have been richer and maybe inspired by discussion of at least some of these things if only the spinmeisters had willed it…if only the candidates had demanded it…if we had demanded it.

E pluribus unum. From the many, one. The motto of our democracy. Well, we learned finally that there’s a lot of pluribus but not much unum.

As it turns out, the fiscal cliff is not the only precipice we have to worry about. There’s the larger cliff on which our destiny as a free and intelligent society teeters. In Arizona, in Washington, we need all the elbow grease that politicians can muster to push away from the edge and to remember in the words of Benjamin Franklin that “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”


Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant, former candidate for Congress, and social critic.

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