Political campaigns: Signs of the times

Contrasting elections in Germany and U.S. Photo: German election campaign signs Photo: TUBS

STUTTGART, September 10, 2013 — It is early September in Germany. The trees are changing color and the fall air has assumed its annual chill. It is also election season, which heralds another change in the local scenery: brightly appointed signage affixed to every street post, from small villages to busy metropolitan areas. 

These posters generally feature a person, presumably a local representative of whichever party, along with a slogan which applies to the particular locale. A traveling American will be immediately struck with the sheer number of these signs, as well as the variety of parties they advocate. In the U.S., where elections have become a numbing duel between the two wealthiest political entities, voter turnout has predictably plummeted with the sparsity of apparent choices.

Even modestly politically engaged Germans will say their system is far from perfect. The larger numbers of posters and signs are usually for the party that has the most power or influence in that region. In the U.S., for example, there will be more billboards and bumper stickers stumping for Republicans than Democrats in the Southern states and the opposite will hold true on the West Coast and Northeast. The more conservative German parties advertise heavily in Munich, while groups which lean left are everywhere in Berlin. 

The poor voter turnout for U.S. elections ought to be a signal to anyone paying attention that the system is broken. Millions of Americans are criminally under represented and yet we continue to allow the status quo to exist. Most Americans believe there are only two political parties to choose from and, if they do not agree with either, they simply stay home on election day. 

This manufactured apathy accomplishes two objectives for entrenched power: first, it ensures that the people who are the most repressed do not address their grievances. Second, with unappealing presidential or congressional options, people are not showing up to vote for important state and local initiatives which may be important to them.

Germans have several political parties to vote for, that much is apparent from the varied and bountiful signage. Why is it that so many Americans believe they have only two options? State-run German television runs debate after debate featuring parties from every hue of the political spectrum, while Americans are only shown debates between the two corporate parties. 

Americans would benefit from comprehensive televised debates between all the candidates they will see on their ballots. More platforms and ideas would make for a more robust discussion of timely issues. The lack of a free press in the U.S. serves to cripple the democratic process. There is a virulent poverty of information available to American voters at the times they need it most. 

The fact that so many U.S. voters believe that nationally televised presidential debates are an accurate portrayal of the electoral landscape is tragic. It is a facade, a spectacle meant to pacify and marginalize rather than inform. If it were real, Americans would see candidates from the Green, Libertarian and other parties on stage alongside the Republicans and Democrats.

Perhaps the street signs would help in America as well. While Germans may still find fault in their political process, they are certainly better aware than Americans of their options come election day. The state has a duty to inform its citizens when they are asked to participate in the political process. In Germany, they do not give this a second thought while in America, the political chicanery and obfuscation continues.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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Russ Rankin

Santa Cruz, California native Russ Rankin is the vocalist for the seminal California punk band Good Riddance, the hard rock band Only Crime as well as currently performing original songs as a solo artist. Rankin is a dedicated vegan, an avid animal rights advocate, a political activist and has been a regular columnist for AMP Magazine and New Noise Magazine as well as contributing to various magazines such as Alternative Press, Razorcake and others. 

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