It’s our future, not fantasy football

The question we ask after a debate should not be “Who won?”

A good place to see through the smoke is Run by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, writers on the site regularly fact-check national political speeches and claims. They also provide a section, Viral Spiral, to deal with chain emails and social-media memes.

It’s that season—though it’s starting to feel like a season that never ends&#mdash;when politics and the future of the nation devolves into a contest of who’s winning and who’s losing. It’s a time when tempers flare, and Facebook unfriendings are on the rise.

But now that the conventions are past and the debates loom, perhaps we can finally move past sound bites, bumper stickers and online memes to a more substantive discussion of issues: jobs and the economy Afghanistan and other foreign-policy matters the social safety net budgetary assistance for the states tax policy, etc. This is not to mention the failed war on drugs, immigration and amnesty, education, and climate change and the environment.

There’s a lot to talk about.

Unfortunately, if the experience from the conventions is any indicator, the political dialogue will be more of the same: a discussion filled with platitudes and attacks, vacant of actual proposals, and with ensuing analysis by pundits and reporters who would be right at home on ESPN.

The question we ask after a debate should not be “Who won?” That sort of thinking casts political campaigns in the same mold as NFL games with winners, losers and also-rans. Like the rivalry between sports teams, it creates a hyperpartisan atmosphere. We almost expected to see convention delegates stripping their shirts and painting their bodies with candidate’s logos.

It’s one thing to be tribal about sports teams; that’s what athletic competition is all about. If we can’t act like a fan at a game, when can we be fanatic? But by allowing this ultracompetitive, winners-vs.-losers mindset to take over our political conversation, we’ve made sure that the real losers will always be U.S. citizens.

Sure, politics as bloodsport keeps the 24-seven news cycle running. But it’s also turning off the very people who need to be involved: those who will be effected by policies that journalists and pundits are most loathe to discuss.

All elections are important, but this is one in which actual policy differences could not be more stark. To treat it as if it’s just another season-playoff series does a disservice to voters, to candidates and to the future.

Regrettably, past experience has shown that attack ads and sound bites work. In this post-Citizens United era—when anyone with money in the bank can spend it supporting a candidate or a policy of their choosing with little or no disclosure—voters will be bombarded with campaign ads and op-eds that make wild claims about one candidate or another, one proposition or another.

That makes it crucial to take time to investigate. The only reason the campaigns—and the deep-pocket donors—engage in this sort of high-dollar electioneering is because it works. We can stop it, even without overturning Citizens United, if we all commit to discussing policy, not personalities.

Here at SN&R, we’ll try to do our part. We hope you’ll join us.