Does anyone want to be an outsider? Isn’t it so much better to be in the know? It is a natural human trait to want to be considered a part of the clique. Listen to two people sitting at a bar discussing sports. They have the jargon down pat and know all sorts of minute details that are of severely limited value at best; but it makes them sound as knowledgeable as the TV color commentators. The same is true of meteorology; we’re all proud of the fact that we have at least a slippery grip on what a wind chill factor is. We are all familiar with this month’s wisdom on heart disease and cancer prevention. We are informed.

The desire for insider information may be natural, but getting it can sometimes cause more trouble than it is worth. In deference to those of my fellow citizens to whom “sports” is a religion, I will forgo comment on sports trivia. The wind chill factor, however, should be a subject of profound indifference to anyone who is not planning to stand outside in the wind. For those who have to stand in the wind, the knowledge that the higher the wind the colder it seems is probably at least as valuable as a number and takes up less space in the cranial data bank. Medical trivia hardly warrants mention. Following last month’s recipe for immortality is found this month to be the leading cause of early death. My own personal least favorite area of insider information is what passes for political reporting in this country.

Here’s a familiar scenario: Candidate A states that the federal government has become too involved in local matters; that temporary taxes put in place to fund our efforts in the Spanish American War, WW I, WW II, Korea, and Viet-Nam are still being collected; and that increasing government regulation of industry puts the country at a competitive disadvantage. Candidate B states that public education is a mess and we need more federal funding to solve the problem; that now that the cold war is over most of the money used for defense should be redirected toward social programs; and that big business in this country is out of control and needs to be made more socially responsible. It would seem that we have two candidates with diametrically opposed views of what government is supposed to do. A thorough airing of the issues should present the American people with a clear choice as to what kind country they want this to be. Then they just vote for the candidate who best represents their ideas for the nation’s future. It sounds simple doesn’t it, and I’m sure that that is about what the founding fathers had in mind. How come it doesn’t work? For one thing most of the American people are unlikely ever to encounter the candidates’ proposals presented in such simple, easy to understand opposing statements laid out side by side for comparison.

Campaign headlines are likely to read something like this: A’s campaign manager linked to wild living as a student. Investigative reporter discovers B’s campaign received contribution from tobacco lobby. On TV we are treated to the following interviews: 1) A thirty year old unwed welfare mother with a ninth grade education, and who cannot read or write, states that the most important issue for her is education, and she just can’t understand people who don’t want to spend more on education. 2) The author of a book suggesting that the American workplace is a dangerous arena where fat cat capitalists send workers to their deaths for profit. 3) An economist who tries to explain with a long string of statistics why less regulation is better for the economy. At about this point Candidate A states that Candidate B has mischaracterized his position on taxes and Candidate B issues a statement deploring the fact that Candidate A has begun negative campaigning by claiming that his position was mischaracterized. Candidate A speaks to an assembly of corporation executives and managers. Candidate B speaks before a national assembly of trade unionists. Each declined an invitation to speak before the other’s supporters, quite correctly suspecting that he was being set up.

At this point the news organizations begin to analyze the strategies of the candidates, and we all get to begin feeling like political insiders. Will Candidate A be able to win after turning his back on working people? Will Candidate B’s snub of big business win him enough votes from the little people to overcome the loss of contributions from the big money interests? If a candidate spends more time in State 1 than in State 2, it will be reported that either he has decided that State 2 is a safe state, or that he has written it off in an effort to concentrate on another state with more electoral votes. People who regularly read newspapers and/or watch television news begin to get interested in the process of the election. They learn the supposed strategies of the various candidates, get familiar with the insider jargon, and start to feel informed. Unfortunately, however, they are being informed about the process and haven’t a clue about what is at stake in the election. It gets better.

Sooner or later some twit will wonder why we can’t have bipartisan solutions to the issues. Why must we either collect more taxes or not? Why must the federal government either insinuate itself into local affairs or not? Why must we either have a lot of workplace regulation or not? Can’t we all just get along? Can’t we have it both ways? Why do we have all of this partisan bickering? Then one day one of the candidates catches a cold from standing on a frozen street corner shaking hands. He can’t afford to get a week’s bed rest so he starts to cough in public and begins to look a little gaunt. A TV talking head mentions that the candidate “looked terrible at yesterday’s rally.” The evening news picks up the theme and by the end of the week there is widespread discussion of whether or not the candidate is healthy enough for public office.

At about this point TV starts carrying interviews of people expressing their opinions on the election. Not surprisingly we hear these good citizens expressing opinions such as: 1) “I was leaning toward A but I’ve got some serious concerns about his health.” 2) “I really don’t think I could vote for A because of all the, you know, like negative advertising and everything.” 3) “I’m just sick to death of all the partisan bickering. I don’t think I’ll vote at all.” 4) “I don’t understand any of it. I can’t tell them apart.” 5) “These guys are all the same, you know. They’re both bought and paid for by the big money boys. It really doesn’t matter which one gets elected.”

What a surprise, huh?