Used to be that politicians were always on the lookout for a crowd, any opportunity to meet and greet potential voters. And time was when those same politicians were constantly tugging at the shirtsleeves of the news reporters, pining for a chance to share a story or a pithy quip that might make it into the papers.
Now most all of them are surrounded by handlers who advise them to severely limit public appearances and debates and steadfastly refuse media interviews. If, god forbid, they are left with no choice but to open their mouths during an unscripted moment, they are schooled in the art of staying "on message," which in practical terms means they are drained of any and all spontaneity and originality and turned into freaking automatons.
Used to be that in Wisconsin we elected Bill Proxmire to represent us in the U.S. Senate. He famously ran his statewide campaigns for a couple hundred bucks. And seemingly everyone in the state had their own story of an encounter with Prox. Maybe it was at a Lambeau Field tailgate or out in front of Camp Randall. Or they ran into him while eating something-on-a-stick at the State Fair, or you-know-what at Cheese Days in Monroe. It could have been at a plant gate at the GM factory in Janesville, or standing in line to get a kringle at O&H bakery in Racine. When you weren't running into Prox in a restaurant or outside a tavern somewhere, you were reading about him and his Golden Fleece awards in the papers. He had no handlers, at least none who could keep up with him on the trail, and certainly no one was telling him to avoid media interviews.
Now the pollsters tell us there's a good chance we'll send Ron Johnson to Washington to represent us in the Senate. Has anyone ever actually met Johnson? Can someone out there confirm for certain that he's not merely a green-screen image that will be digitally superimposed on the Senate floor during debates?
State secrets have nothing on Johnson's campaign schedule. He almost never agrees to talk to reporters. Hell, the executive editor of Johnson's hometown newspaper serves with him on the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, and couldn't get an interview.
Johnson is running a thoroughly modern campaign. One TV ad after another after another. All style, no substance, much nonsense. Everyone knows government doesn't produce jobs . . . I know how to create jobs so send me to Washington and put me in your government and I'll make the economy hum. In a span of a little over four weeks, over 18,000 TV ads aired in the U.S. Senate race at a cost of more than $7 million. Close to $4 million of that came from Johnson himself, with another $625,000 coming from interest groups supporting him.
Used to be if you wanted to get married, you had to meet the family before popping the question. You had to break bread. And you had to have "the talk" with your future father in law. In politics, there was something akin to that courtship.
Now if you want to represent us in the halls of Congress or at the State Capitol you don't have to meet us or get to know what makes us tick or answer our questions. You don't have to have the talk. You just have to beam your green-screen image into our living rooms over and over and over again.