Steve Wikert is a retired teacher living in Cedar Falls.
Iowans have a special political responsibility this election. Iowa is considered a "swing state" along with a handful of other states. Unlike the majority of other states, Iowa’s distribution of voters makes it impossible for pollsters to predict a distinct winner in the 2012 presidential election. Under the right circumstances many pundits believe Iowans will decide the election.
Unfortunately the 2012 election is becoming a TV reality program for the American people. Voter behavior has now become like audience behavior watching their favorite reality game contestants compete. Because we want to be entertained like a TV audience, some Americans now cheer for their favorites no matter how many rules they may break, how aggressive they are toward others, or how many inaccurate statements they say to win the "game." Studies are now showing that no matter how many facts are presented to voters "incriminating" their candidate, the deeper they dig-in supporting that candidate.
While waiting months and months to find out which Republican candidate he would face, President Obama humorously alluded to the reality show analogy while on the "Tonight Show." He stated, "I’m going to wait until everybody is voted off the island. Once they narrow it down to one or two, I’ll start paying attention."
But this is really no laughing matter. The perception that the election process is a game is making it harder and harder for Iowans and American voters to sort things out. Even though President Obama joked about the reality TV program analogy earlier, the public’s mindset is a real problem. The president’s behavior during the first October debate was beyond reproach in terms of courtesy and debate etiquette. Little did he know that Republicans and other television viewers would cheer Mitt Romney on for acting aggressive and ignoring debate rules, while spouting numerous inaccurate or misleading statements. Mitt Romney also totally reversed his own opinion on several subjects including the health insurance pre-existing condition issue. The day after the debate the Republican Party issued a statement correcting Romney’s inaccurate statement about pre-existing conditions to obtain health insurance. Republicans say that patients would only be covered by insurance if they had continuous insurance coverage three months prior to applying. This is an important distinction since the Republican’s plan would reportedly disallow 30 million Americans from obtaining health insurance while Obamacare would allow them to have it.
Since political analysts agree that these handful of states, including Iowa, will basically "decide" the election, then Iowans should be very vigilant about having the correct information available before deciding to vote. As a fellow Iowan, I have been especially troubled about information I have seen that perpetuates inaccurate or misleading statements on specific political issues. Political statements about Iowa candidates in both state and national congressional races have also been misleading or inaccurate.
Because of this reality show "intellect" (or lack of) that has permeated our political process the number of fact-checkers has risen. Unfortunately because some fact-checkers have been found to have political affiliations, the public then needs "fact-checkers" to check "fact-checkers." The trust level of Americans toward politics is deteriorating. It is no wonder that people are hesitant to switch their candidate.
Bending the truth to malign your political rival goes back to the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson election, but the evolution to our present day election is frightening. A website that does seem to have a very bipartisan attitude is www.politifact.com. They won the Pulitzer Prize for their fact-checking efforts of the 2008 election. This website does find substantially more inaccurate statements by the Romney campaign compared to the Obama campaign. Only 1 percent of Obama’s statements are rated in the worst category of "Pants on Fire," compared to 9 percent of Romney’s statements. Alex Altman adds to this sentiment in the October 15, 2012, Time Magazine issue when he comments about Romney‘s untruths, "Compared to the Obama campaign’s the Romney operation’s misstatements are frequently more brazen."
Ann Romney in a recent interview, equated the first presidential debate to a "game", and told Democrats, "It’s poor sportsmanship" for them to point out her husbands inaccurate statements. In an interview with CBS in the final weeks this September, Obama graciously acknowledged that his campaign seems to go "overboard" and that is something that "happens in politics," but Romney, in a CNN interview, refused to wavier or admit to any inaccurate statements when he said, "We’ve been absolutely spot on." Can something be determined about Mitt Romney’s character when he remains dishonest even when shown evidence of his own inaccurate statements.
So Iowans beware! Many other inaccurate or misleading statements appear every day in a variety of media sources. It is our responsibility as "swing state" Iowa citizens to research and find out the truth. This is not a reality TV program or a game! The actual "reality" is that Iowans have been handed the important responsibility of deciding what will happen to our nation in the next four years and beyond. In the process of making an "informed" decision, all Iowans will have to employ special care in sorting out the truth in the political information we receive.