Monday, February 19, 2007

Inspiration

As more and more politicians declare their candidacies for President of the United States, I begin to anxiously await the election. In some respects, I'm curious about who will rise to the top to receive the Democratic and Republican nominations. However, I dread the inevitable assault of negativity and attack ads. Most of all, I wonder if there will be a candidate who will inspire me. In fact, I hope there will be a candidate that will inspire me. Unfortunately, I think we may have left behind the time in which a politician can be inspiring.

Think about the last time a politician said something memorable that wasn't related to a scandal, mispronunciation or ridicule on SNL. You'd probably have to go all the way back to John F. Kennedy's famous line, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." That speech is before my time, so I don't remember the impact that it had on the nation, nor do I remember if it actually inspired people. I can only make assumptions based on what history books and people who lived it can tell me. They tell me that they were inspired. However, I do know that people joined the Peace Corps and dedicated themselves to causes other than their own self-interest. This may not have been due to JFK's speech, but the climate at the time was one in which JFK could say something like that and people didn't roll their eyes. People actually listened and thought about it. What if our President said that today?

I'm not trying to bash our current President, but imagine if he cut in to the middle of American Idol and said those words today. First, the country would revolt because he kept them from their precious television show. Then, everyone would roll their eyes and think something like, "Great line, buddy. How many speech writers did it take to come up with that one?" We wouldn't be inspired, we'd just be annoyed. Believe it or not, it's not entirely Bush's fault. It's our fault, too. Mostly, it's the marketers fault.

Marketers? What? Where did that come from? It came from my life. My generation. Unlike any generation before us, we've been marketed to our entire lives. On Saturday mornings when we sat down to watch our cartoons, we saw ad after ad trying to sell us sugary cereals. That was just the beginning. Since then, we see ads every where we go. Most of us are even walking billboards. I'm sure that everyone reading this have some sort of shirt or hat that sports the Nike logo. If not Nike, then Adidas or Reebok or Tommy Hilfiger - you get the point. We understand advertising, we know what it is trying to do. We are aware that we are constantly trying to be sold something and we adjust our perspectives accordingly. In fact, we project it upon our politicians.

We see a politician using the same language that the advertisements use and we immediately assume that he's trying to sell us something. In other words, that it's in his best interest to convince us to give him our "currency" (read: vote). We know how to handle this. We make a cynical remark or judgment about this politician. We've seen it all before and we know not to believe it. Of course, it doesn't help that there have been numerous politicians cheat and lie to us in our lifetime. Those politicians have ruined it for the few who are actually sincere and honest. Because they all talk the same, they all must be the same.

Then there's the negativity. No matter what the politicians say, they will always run attack ads and take shots at their opponent. They do it because it works. People respond to those ads - true or not - and it shapes their votes. Unfortunately, the way it shapes the votes is not by persuading people to vote in their direction, but by convincing people to stay home and not vote at all. It benefits the politicians for a large number of voters to stay at home. The politicians only want the die-hards to come out and vote because they can predict how those people will vote. If the undecided, poor, fed up, disillusioned, uninspired people came out to vote, the politicians would have no idea how things would turn out and therefore have no idea what to say to win your vote. Of course, this is exactly why us young, unpredictable voters must go out and vote. If we don't make our voices heard in one way or another, we are simply giving the die-hards that much more power over our elected officials. If we all went out and voted, we just might find a politician who could say something to inspire us once again.

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