New Jersey’s Future is “On the Line”
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
This Tuesday, October 6, at 10:00 p.m. I am moderating a live call-in program on public television (Simulcast on THIRTEEN [PBS], WBGO- Jazz 88.3 FM [NPR] and NJN – Public Television, as well as on the Web at nj.com) with all three candidates for governor called “On the Line: Decision 2009.” For one hour, incumbent Governor Jon Corzine, Republican candidate Chris Christie and Independent candidate Chris Daggett will have the opportunity to respond directly to callers, those sending in e-mails, and people on the street. It is not a debate, but it is an opportunity for the kind of meaningful discussion on substantive issues that has been so sorely lacking in this campaign.
The latest diversion has been a highly trivialized discussion of a very serious issue having to do with health care. More specifically, a charge against Chris Christie that he isn’t supportive of women getting mammograms as an effort to detect breast cancer in its early stages. Christie has responded with a highly personal ad talking about his late mother being diagnosed with breast cancer and living for 20 years because of a mammogram she received. Christie makes it clear that he is offended by the Corzine campaign’s charge against him, but there is a larger issue here, and it comes down to what exactly the role of government should be in mandating what health insurance companies should cover and what should be optional.
In fact, Christie talked extensively in the primary campaign about promoting no frills insurance policies that were cheaper and would reduce the cost of health insurance. Some interpreted that as him saying he would let insurance companies off the hook for mandating mammograms. I argue the issue is unclear, but what IS very clear is that with such a serious and important issue, particularly for millions of women in our state, is that both Corzine and Christie, as well as Daggett, be given the opportunity to talk in very specific ways about the issue of health care. How WOULD each of them insure the nearly 1 million New Jersey residents currently without health insurance? What about those who are underinsured? How would they pay for the charity care provided for those without insurance but show up in the emergency room? Who pays those bills and is there a better way to do it than just packing on to the insurance premiums of the rest of us, including employers who are struggling to balance their budgets by still providing health insurance to their employees?
Should mammograms be mandated? What are the pros? What are the cons? Should they be mandatory for certain women of a certain age? Should we consider family history? How much should the government get involved and how much should be left to the free marketplace? You see, those are the kinds of issues and questions that can’t be answered in a nasty, negative 30-second spot intended to either tear down the reputation of your opponent or retort back to an attack ad aimed at you.
30-second TV spots have become the primary vehicle by which the vast majority of voters come to think they know who the candidates are and what they stand for. But think about it. What can you do in 30 seconds? What can you say? Can you talk about an issue like health care or even the question of mandating mammograms? Can you talk about anything remotely complex or multifaceted? Any problem? Any issue? Any concept or idea? Of course not.
So what the political media handlers do is say; “Look, the best we can do in 30 seconds is tear down the other guy. So, let’s get the biggest bang for our buck.” Sounds pretty innocuous, huh? Well it’s not. What it does is force voters to make a decision on who should lead our state—who should be the one responsible for addressing these very complex and multifaceted problems and challenges—based on irrelevant, erroneous, exaggerated and absurd information gotten from 30-second TV commercials in the most expensive media market in the world.
I’m not saying that a live call-in program on public television will solve all of our problems or address all of our concerns, but isn’t that a much better way to get a clearer sense of who Jon Corzine is, as well as the two candidates who are seeking to take his job? Wouldn’t it be better if we could see statewide candidates put a few sentences together and make cogent, logical points as opposed to having our image of them and their opponents come from grainy video and voiceovers from a professional announcer who you don’t know and you’ll never meet?
Democracy is messy, imperfect and sometimes very confusing. But, the one thing that is crystal clear to me is that as long as we get most of our information from TV (and, increasingly, Internet) commercials, the choices we make will reflect the absurdity of that communication vehicle. It’s hard enough buying a car based on seeing a TV spot, but deciding who will lead our state for the next four years using the same approach? You’ve got to be kidding me.
So, tune in to “On the Line” and make sure you check out the remaining debates with the candidates. It may not be as entertaining as “The Sopranos” or “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, but it is an investment in our state that is more than worth it.
What do you think the #1 issue in this governor’s race should be? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to incorporate it into the program.
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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