For a variety of reasons, we in the U. S. have developed some very strange rituals for the selection and election of our political representatives. We have pretty much guaranteed that we will get at best mediocre candidates and will elect those who lie to us the most effectively.

I always am torn between crediting the media for its slavish emphasis on the human foibles of candidates (and others) or tagging we the citizens with our short attention spans and penchant for the sensational rather than the substantive.

I am torn because, after all, media outlets thrive on our attention to them and will do, like the street walkers they are, almost anything to get it. As Bill Maher pointed out on his HBO season opener, you may have missed the news on global warming because Anna Nicole smith died. We heard about Sen. Joe Biden’s awkward comments about a “clean” Sen. Obama rather than hearing about Sen. Biden’s proposals for America.

So which came first, our puny ability to tolerate real discussion or the media’s lack of willingness to provide real discussions? Knowing only a few journalists but a whole lot of Americans, I have to straddle the fence and a lot the blame in generous portions to both. As a nation, we have an attention span of 6 seconds and foresight of about five days. We have a national case of AHDD and we keep dosing ourselves with more crap convinced that it will end the pain. But it doesn’t, and that is how we got George Bush Jr. as President.

Having come close, recently, to a local city council election in my little city of West Hollywood, I see how even at this most local level the candidate pool is shallow and those who self select probably are not the best equipped to make the decisions the city faces. It gets worse the farther up the food chain we go, culminating in the extravaganza of banality we call a Presidential election.

Those people who might actually have good ideas, a talent for leadership and otherwise would provide what we need to rescue our nation from a painful suicide are unlikely to seek office at any level, and least of all for the highest office. Fist, no sane person would be willing to go through the public bone picking over their most private matters. Second, no person with a shred of dignity and moral courage would go about the process of begging for the money required to run for office. It is demeaning and opens up opportunities for corruption that are anathema to our system.

If you look at recent campaigns, the only logical conclusion is that we insist on candidates that have either never done anything wrong in their lives, have never misspoken, always been consistent – or they have embraced Jesus as their savior and are born again. Sen. Kerry was defeated in large part because his opponent successfully painted him as a “flip flopper” meaning, apparently, that anyone who changes their mind about something is unelectable. That certainly would have excluded virtually all prior Presidents except possibly Calvin Coolidge.

Now we hear that Sen. Clinton should apologize for her vote to empower the President to invade Iraq. This despite the fact that her statements at the time made it clear she did not favor going to war and wanted diplomatic means to prevail. If an apology is forthcoming from her it should be for trying too hard to act like her male counterparts and try to sound like the whole thing is a thought out, consistent issue.

As the campaign rolls out, we will be fed sound bites, passages taken out of context, an emphasis on gaffes and human foibles that will have virtually nothing to do with the real issues facing our cities, states and nation. We have a number of critical, pressing issues that deserve and need our immediate attention.

So put down the Xbox 360, tell the kids to get out the books you have been meaning to give them and do your homework, America. Let Brittney Spears do her thing without you knowing about it for a year. Forget what crazy astronauts do in their spare time and pay attention to what is happening, or more accurately, what is NOT happening.

It may take a few hours to understand the health care crisis, and maybe even more to figure out how you and I are getting screwed to the rack by China and the other creditor nations who now own us and could cut us off at any moment. There are complex matters that require your undivided attention and there is no cure to be found on American Idol.

We have serious problems. If you have the rare chance to speak to a candidate for any office, don’t let them get past you with platitudes and bullshit. Demand a thoughtful, truthful, direct answer. This is what citizens do. If you think you deserve better than what we have now in public office, demand it. Don’t vote for the “lesser of two evils” vote for the best candidate, of whatever party.

Stop the madness! Be an American, not a wimp.

(Phil Hoskins is a Hollywood attorney who founded “Take Back West Hollywood.”)

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