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Lloyd Omdahl, Published November 11 2012

Omdahl: Politics at a new low in ’12

According to the Gallup polling organization, a majority of Americans were satisfied with the way the 2012 election campaign was conducted. I didn’t realize so many people were out of the country during the past four months.

As a representative of the minority, I would say that the 2012 campaign was a sad commentary on American democracy. And you can bet that future campaigns will be even worse as a result of the precedents established in 2012.

The dialogue in all media was muddled. The candidates behaved just a little more respectably than their television ads, but neither side has much to boast about.

Not only did the candidates duck and dodge the issues, but the partial truths generated and funded by outside organizations only compounded the confusion. The libel and slander the candidates couldn’t use respectably became the fodder for the independent PACs and entities unknown.

Much of the blame for this new low in campaign advertising can be laid at the door of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, it decided that everyone – corporations, labor unions, trade organizations – were free to spend everything they could garner and not even tell the electorate where the money came from.

Well, the decision opened the floodgates of propaganda, and billions were spent, mostly on advertising that did nothing to clarify the basic differences between the two presidential candidates.

These new participants learned a few things in this first round of unfettered propaganda that will make them even more effective and more irresponsible next time. So expect the 2016 presidential campaign to be even worse than the 2012 debacle.

Another occurrence that marred the 2012 election was the effort in some states to discourage voters.

Any thinking adult could see that the new voting restrictions passed by one-fourth of the states were intended not to protect the integrity of the system but to discourage people from voting. Vote suppression has always been undergirded by ulterior motives.

For decades, Democrats in the South suppressed the African-American vote with literacy tests, registration rules, poll taxes and residence requirements. In New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, every effort was made to curtail the political influence of new citizens from Ireland and southern Europe.

But in modern America, vote suppression represents an alarming reversal of our commitment to recognizing the equality and dignity of every individual in our society. As a matter of fact, this nation has spent 200 years struggling with the adversarial forces rallied against extending and simplifying the vote.

The first citizens to be enfranchised were the propertyless; next came the 15th Amendment for African-Americans in 1870; then passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 for women, and finally the 25th Amendment in 1971 lowered the voting age to 18.

Every step made us proud. It reflected a commitment to the dignity of all people – the poor, the black, the women and the young. This is no time to retreat from this basic value.

Another disappointment in the 2012 campaign was the obvious inability of the electorate to separate fact from fiction.

This was reflected in the shifting of the opinion polls from debate to debate and from gaff to gaff. So the president lost ground when he wimped through the first debate. Then Mitt Romney lost momentum because of a natural disaster. The electorate did not seem able to maintain a focus on the real issues that divided the candidates. It reflected an ungrounded fickleness.

The 2012 campaign marked a new low for a country that prides itself as being the essence of democracy. This was not a good campaign, and we need to clean up our act before 2016.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com