Robocalls: The Sequel

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Friday, I posted about the recent indictment of two of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s political aides for ordering unlawful robocalls aimed at voter suppression last election day. When dealing with the indictment of persons who have not yet been tried, let alone convicted of anything, extra care is required not to misrepresent the situation. I forewent analysis in favor of facts. But this robocall scandal begs the discussion of a larger problem with our political process.

While state Republicans were fairly quiet about the charges, Maryland Democratic party chair Yvette Lewis went on record to condemn the robocalls, calling them “reprehensible” and stating further that she is “outraged by any action intended to disenfranchise voters and subvert our democratic process.” However sincere Lewis’ outrage may be, her statement mischaracterizes the nature of political campaigning by implying that the subversion of the democratic process is the aim only of a particular candidate or a particular party. She might acknowledge that a campaign is, at its core, a matter of political gamesmanship. When political campaigns routinely attempt to manipulate voter opinion with emotionally charged buzz words, or run unflattering black-and-white pictures of the opponents with out-of-context sound bites, or draw attention to embarrassing but irrelevant scandals, the goal is no less than the subversion of the democratic process.

In an election, there are many people actively involved who are deeply invested in one outcome or the other, and relatively few people who are deeply invested the integrity of the process. Politicians do not pay six-figure fees to political consultants to ensure that the will of the people is obeyed. Neither do individuals and corporations donate large sums to political campaigns to guarantee the integrity of the democracy.

What we get is a political reality in which candidates, speechwriters, and consultants concern themselves not with honesty and fairness, but results. Every so often a politician perpetrates an immoral and dishonest tactic that also happens to be criminal, and he’s startled awake from his dreamy status quo to find he is facing actual charges attached to actual jail time.

I am not suggesting if the two aides are found guilty that they should be excused because they somehow didn’t know better. The point is that restoring legitimacy to the democratic process involves more than the occasional ferreting out of particularly outrageous examples of foul-play (and certainly some are more outrageous than others); it requires fundamental changes to the way that political campaigns are run in this country.

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