Sunday, November 15, 2009

Post #5: The Ethics of Polioptics

What is Polioptics?
A few months ago, our class had the pleasure of hearing a guest lecture from distinguished “Beltway insider” Josh King. King is an accomplished political consultant that served multiple presidents, and is currently Senior Vice President for Penn, Schoen, & Berland Associates in New York City. His lecture introduced the class to a field called “poli-optics.” Defined as the “the art or science concerned with influencing public policy, polioptics is the marriage of politics and optics. It is prepackaged political persuasion designed to control the image fed to journalists and voters.

This is not a topic that I can dissect using the Right and Left media because both sides are equally susceptible to it. However, I will address the ethical questions and implications associated with the practice of polioptics.

Should Presidential Candidates Use Polioptics?
It seems that use of politioptics has brought American politics further away from important issues. As we have seen in the last election, presidential politics have become more about money, celebrity status, and sound bites than substantive issues such as healthcare and national security. If imagery becomes the metric by which we judge a political candidate’s ability to effectively execute the responsibilities of the President of the United States, there is no doubt that this country will be predestined for failure. In the 2008 presidential election the American people were fortunate that the winner who knew the issues the best also ran the best polioptics campaign. But it is only a matter of time before an inferior candidate (a candidate that doesn’t have full grasp of the issues) beats a superior candidate (candidate that has an excellent command of the issues) because he/she ran a better polioptics campaign. This is downright scary.

Polioptics and the Presidency
Even if you favor the use of polioptics during a presidential campaign, you have to admit that the issue is transformed once that candidate is elected to the presidency. While I am not entirely convinced that a presidential candidate should be allowed to use polioptics during a campaign, I think it is unethical for a sitting president to engage in this activity. When a sitting president uses this strategy, it blurs the line between political imagery and propaganda.

Where Does Polioptics End?
I have no qualms with a politician making a speech with a small American flag in the background. But how far is too far? As polioptics is becoming used more frequently in political campaigns, some fear that the use of this strategy could lead us down a slippery slope. This slippery slope could lead the American political process to the point where there will be no limits on the technologies that are utilized by political campaigns to manipulate voters. This type of manipulation and deception could prevent the media and the public from holding the United States government and its officials accountable.

Concluding Remarks
In contrast with the other issues that I have analyzed in this blog, this is probably one of the few issues on which I am ambivalent. While I understand that marketing strategies have become increasingly important for political campaigns, I am still skeptical about the idea because of the potential negative implications that could result.

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