Sunday, April 19, 2015


Misdirected Presidential Campaigns.


Hilary Clinton opened her Presidential campaign with a video showing images of happy people, two men walking, holding hands, some pretty babies, ducks, a happy couple expecting their child and more. Then there is Hilary herself, in front of an upper middle class home with white trim and a white picket fence (really!) and a flower garden in bloom telling us about growing inequality in the US and offering to be the champion of the majority that is losing out.
The message I hear is: Our America is in good shape. It would be even better if we could reduce economic inequality and she will, if elected President, fight for that. The message is designed to make us feel warm inside. It certainly did that for me.
But then I recalled the Social Progress Index produced annually by an organization that calls itself “Social Progress Imperative.” It sets out to measure the accomplishments of different countries not by the amount of money they have (GDP) but by outcomes, by what these countries accomplish on different dimensions. A summary of the scorecard for the US in 2015 is dismal: in health and wellness we rank 68th of all countries in the world. In personal safety we rank 30th, with respect to access to basic knowledge –which refers to primary and secondary education-- our rank is 45th (although we do much better in higher education), in ecosystem sustainability our rank is 74th. These are our scores in spite of spending more money, for instance, on health care than all other countries.
Before proceding I should say that the board of directors of the organization producing these rankings includes one professor from Harvard Business School, one professor from MIT and Oxford University each, an editor from the British business journal The Economist and the President of the Rockefeller Foundation. These are not socialists or communists, or flaming left-wing radicals. They are enlightened persons in the middle of the political spectrum. Their numbers and the implicit criticisms of existing conditions in the Unites States deserve to be taken very seriously.
Our country is seriously falling behind. At issue is not an international competition that ends in some sort of World Cup of health and welfare, or educational accomplishment. If we rank 68th in health and wellness there are 67 countries whose population is in better health and cared for more effectively when they fall ill than are citizens of the US, even though those countries spend less money on health care than we do. The ways in which these other countries organize their health delivery system, their preventive medicine programs, their medical and pharmacological research and delivery systems of medications and medical technology are more effective than ours. These other countries have figured out a lot of ways of doing things related to health and wellness that are better than what we do. All of that in spite of our justly world famous universities and research institutes.
We hear none of that in Hilary's opening campaign video. Nor is that anything the matter with Hilary Clinton. If you consult the opening videos of Republican candidates, our dismal performance in the Social Progress Index does not show up there either. None of the candidates for president so far has dared to tell us that we have mismanaged our country and our ample resources is disastrous ways. Many other countries, smaller, saddled with more problems, have managed to keep their citizens, healthier, better educated than we have. They have been less destructive of their environment than we have.
Why is that not a topic in the presidential campaign? The candidates who each in their own way assure us that America is well, healthy and thriving and just needs a small tune-up here or there are lying to their constituents. Our political campaigns are based on deception, misinformation, on making citizens feel good. They do not appeal to us as mature adults who can stand to face crisis situations. They do not exhort us to have our eyes open to struggle against the difficulties we are facing. They are trying, instead, to narcotize us with false feelings of security.
What is going on here? Ask any schoolchild what democracy is and they will tell you that in a democracy the people rule. That means they run things. Running things means recognizing problems and trying to fix them. If that is what American citizens were doing, our candidates for office would come to us with problems and their specific proposals for resolving this problem or that. Candidate and citizens would have to have detailed conversations about the precise nature of a problem and what different possible resolutions might look like. But that is not what we get. Hilary talks about economic inequality. Is that one problem or many? Whatever it is, Hilary will help us fix it. She does not tell us how. So we—the people who supposedly run things—have nothing to bite into. We can like Hilary because she makes us feel good. Her republican opponents promise to deal with the deficit. How will they do that? don't ask. They promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. Replace it with what? We are not told.
Candidates treat voters not as the people who run things, but as the gullible, unthinking audience to a political American Idol. The voters, infantilized by the candidates' public relations wizards, accept that role.
What a sad caricature of democracy!