Monday, October 31, 2005

Overspending and the Public Good

Saturday's Times story raises another issue that we didn’t touch on in the previous post: The way in which an unlimited campaign expenditure by a spectacularly wealthy individual can undermine the public interest even more so than if a candidate was beholden to a coterie of special interests.

As the Times points out, the mayor's approval rating hovered at around 42% in the spring right before he began his ad blitz. It now stands in the high 60s with many respondents eerily sounding the Bloomberg message points when asked by reporters to comment on the mayor's record.

The overwhelming nature of the message saturation, and the concomitant lack of any strong countervailing voice, has not only defined what's important in this election but has also circumscribed the nature of the debate itself, precluding the discussion of those very issues (the budget, taxes and the structure of government) that will define the next four years.

The purpose of a campaign is to frame the political agenda. It will do this best if there is a vigorous political debate, one accompanied by a robust media chorus that forces the candidates to confront the most potentially thorny political issues. The current "all Bloomberg all the time" campaign has therefore done the voters a serious disservice, one that we will all likely have to pay for in the next four years.