Feature Article

Aftermath: Lasell Profs Ponder Presidential Election

Three Takes on the 2016 Presidential Election

What About the Issues?

By Paul Debole, Asst. Professor of Political Science

The quadrennial Presidential election is over.

And this year both parties have produced candidates who seem to be alienating large portions of the American electorate. On the one side, we have an outspoken billionaire using his own personal fortune and the politics of "divide and conquer" with aspirations of steamrolling himself into the White House. On the other side we had a former attorney, former first lady, former United States Senator, and former Secretary of State, with a perceived air of entitlement attempting to take her rightful place as the nation's chief executive. And, at least to my way of thinking, neither is what the country needed.

For several years, one of my biggest criticisms of our electoral system is that presidential elections are basically a beauty contest. My thought is that members of the electorate should be seen as a "hiring committee." Damn party membership and semi-feudal allegiance to the almighty lords of government. The people are hiring these candidates for a job. What, on that person's resume, would lead a reasonable person to conclude that they have the requisite skill set and life experience to be a good President?

What is unfortunate about this election is that the insertion of playground antics has taken away from an examination of the issues that the people of our country face; and, therefore, created a more enhanced beauty contest. The excitement of the primaries - when young people came out in droves for Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz rallies - vanished. The elevation of two "unsuitable" candidates to their party's pinnacle negated the youthful enthusiasm of the run up to the conventions.

In my circle of colleagues and friends, people were poised to cast their votes defensively. Not because they loved the candidate they will choose, but because they disliked the other even more. Hardly a suitable way to choose the leader of the world's oldest democracy - and yet we did.

But I do take a certain amount of solace in knowing that, no matter who is President, our constitutional system of government is strong enough endure a less-than-qualified or even downright lousy one. Congress is vested with a majority of the power granted by our Constitution; and, the President can do nothing unless Congress agrees to increase his (or her) allowance. The problem is that Congress is made up of 535 people, 534 of whom want to be President. So while they are busy trying to gain some type of political advantage for themselves to further that goal, the President has free rein to set the agenda, no matter how ill-advised some of those action items might be.

How shall we return our country to include an electorate that thoughtfully analyzes the issues, the readiness and the leadership qualities of our presidential candidates?

That is a question that will plague our political system for the foreseeable future. I, for one, plan to address this in my political classes, encourage our students to be more analytical  and to stay engaged when they leave our campus. My students are our future. Otherwise, next time, I may be tempted to write in Bill Belichick.

The More Things Change...
By John K. Dirlam Jr., Adjunct Professor of History

The nation was emerging from a devastating recession that had bankrupted thousands of businesses, cost many people their homes and driven the urban unemployment rate well over 20%. One candidate was a firm believer in high tariffs to protect American industries and workers from cheap foreign labor and globalization. The other advocated free trade, inflation, higher taxes on the rich, and more government regulation of business. Both wanted immigration restrictions to protect native-born Americans.

Sound familiar? The year was 1896, not 2016, and the election was one of the most critical in American history. The Democratic (and Populist Party) candidate was Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, who won the nomination with a magnificent speech at the Democratic National Convention. At age 36, he was the youngest candidate ever to run on a major party ticket (JFK was 43). His populist platform attacked Wall Street and the rich in general and appealed to poor farmers in the Midwest and South and to (some) industrial workers in the Northeast.

The Republican candidate was long-time Ohio Congressman and Governor, William McKinley, age 53. McKinley was a Civil War hero who had risen through the ranks from private to major as a result of courage under fire. He was pro-business and believed in sound money (i.e., the gold standard) even in times of recession. But he also supported equal pay for women and civil rights for blacks and was not tainted by the nativism found in both parties at that time.

Interestingly, the issues of free trade, immigration, income inequality, and civil rights were just as important 120 years ago to a hard-fought election as they were in the recent 2016 campaign.

In 1896, partly as a result of outspending Bryan by at least 10 to one, McKinley won the close race and then went on to defeat Bryan again in 1900, when the economy had recovered and the main issue was "imperialism"-whether the United States should emulate European powers and have colonies as a result of winning the Spanish -American War. McKinley embraced the idea, while Bryan was bitterly opposed because it conflicted with his pacifist and Christian ideals and his belief in American exceptionalism.

In 1901, McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist and succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, a great campaigner who went on to become one of the most popular Presidents in our history.

As for Bryan, he ran once more in 1908 and lost to Republican William Howard Taft to become only the second candidate in our history to lose the Presidency three times on a major party ticket.

The proverb may be true: the more things change, the more they remain the same. Or, as President Truman once said, 'the only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.' "

Media Matters
By Marie Campagna Franklin, Associate Professor of Journalism

When the world's most powerful democracy elects a President, it's only natural they would turn to journalists for help. In fact, the press should play a vital role in presidential politics and be the most unbiased channel of communication available.

Unfortunately, much of the coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign was biased, incomplete and inaccurate. This election demonstrated that the days of objective political reporting have been replaced by partisan opinion disguised as analysis. Even worse, the election was covered like a boxing event with emphasis on the fight between candidates and their supporters rather than reporting on the policies and personalities they would bring to the Oval Office.

Did "The Donald" get too much coverage because he's good for ratings? Was Hillary held to a higher standard because she was female? Were the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, and especially Bernie Sanders, ripped off because, in the end, no one thought they could win?

With all of these concerns, what were the voters to do?

As a professor of Journalism and Media Ethics, I gave my students this advice: Read, listen and watch a wide array of political coverage, from mainstream newspapers like The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, to network and cable TV outlets like conservative Fox News and liberal MSNBC, to digital platforms such as Buzzfeed, Twitter and Facebook. An international take on US news from outlets like The BBC and The Guardian, too, is beneficial.

With the election now behind us, it is important to prepare our young people for a new way of finding the truth: Just because something appears in the news doesn't mean it's accurate or newsworthy.

The Internet, for example, is where a majority of readers get their news. But the traditional gatekeeper function-where a trained journalist filters information, checks facts and disseminates news-is often missing on the web. When incorrect information is posted-even if it is corrected in the future-readers who digested the original inaccuracy rarely see the post that corrects it. In other words, when fact-checking is not done in real time, people learn the truth too late, if at all.

Presidential debates are another example of the changes in how information is offered to the public. Today, when a candidate states something as fact during a live telecast, it often goes unchallenged. And it hardly matters that a mainstream newspaper publishes a fact-check column the next day, because most TV viewers won't be reading the newspaper in the morning.

I also remind students that the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, religion and the press, wasn't written because our Founding Fathers expected only the press to be a government watchdog. They also expected citizens to be informed and to exercise their civic duties. So, while it's fair to say some reporting is biased, it's also true that many voters today spread prejudice and misinformation, also damaging the process.

Professors teach hoping to change students. During the 2016 presidential election, I hope my students learned that it is up to them to supplement their usual diet of news and information with their own fact-checking and careful observations . . . before ever casting a vote.

Past Issues