On the one hand, maybe for all our folly we’re basically engaged enough—or the people who decide to vote are engaged enough—that we can sift through the media maelstrom and figure out, on average, whose principles, character, and record best represent our community. On the other hand, maybe we’re a bunch of chimps who will vote for the shiny thing. I incline toward the latter, but I’ve never been all that big on the intrinsic virtues of democracy. I just have trouble wrapping my head around the view that combines these two beliefs: (1) The wisdom of the people, on the whole, justifies not just the installation of Candidate A over Candidate B, but a whole array of coercive state policies, and also (2) We’re really easily led, and will sell our firstborn to Altria if a slick ad says to. It seems strange for both those things to be true.
Perhaps he’s a bit pessimistic, but it seems to me that the concern in this case is a bit paternalistic. We can’t manage as voters to sort out the various ads that we see, but we are somehow qualified to choose the people who will decide just what ads we will get to see, and how we can group together to pursue our political goals.
That’s the problem with a sort of “elitist democracy.” The elite have to make sure that the rest of us vote for the right people. The people we vote into office are somehow qualified to decide which messages we should hear while we decide whether to vote them back into office again.
I believe that corporations do have a great deal of influence on how elections go. They have even more influence on the crafting of legislation after the election. But there’s a funny thing here. No matter how many laws are passed regulated elections the influence doesn’t seem to change. It makes one wonder whether those legislators are all that well qualified to deal with excessive influence.
Of course the corporations most involved in the election process are exempt from this regulation–the press. The traditional media are free to put their message in front of the people without regulation. That’s as it should be, but it makes one wonder why a few paid ads by other corporations are somehow so dangerous, while an entire season of biased reporting by supposedly objective media is such a major danger.