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Candidate Content: 50% Pork, 50% Hot Air

Politicians should come with warning labels.

November 04, 2002|Joseph H. Cooper

We're going about this election stuff all wrong. We need benchmarks -- objective, truly qualitative and even quantitative standards by which we can evaluate a candidate's attributes. We look at "the comparables" before we buy a house and at ratings when purchasing a car or household appliance. Maybe we should think about candidates as products.

Appliances are rated based on their energy efficiency. For example, by dividing an air conditioner's capacity rating (measured in BTUs) by the wattage it consumes, we arrive at the unit's EER, its energy efficiency rating. OK, stay with me on this one: By dividing a candidate's cooling-off capacity (measured in terms of Bipartisan Transaction Units) by his propensity to create partisan discord, we arrive at the candidate's EER, his Equanimity-Enmity Ratio.

Cars are rated as to their fuel efficiency, resale value and safety. How about rating politicians based on their Ministrations Per Groundswell or their Malapropisms Per Grandstand? How about judging them by the way they come away from a head-on collision with their ideological opposites?

Drugs are subject to lots of evaluations, tests and comparisons. When a candidate is touted as a cure for all our ills, wouldn't it be great to know whether he can actually bring about the relief promised, in the time promised? Shouldn't we be apprised of a recommended dosage or exposure? How about cautions as to harmful interactions and possible side effects? Shouldn't candidates be obliged to disclose all major funding sources and the extent of these contributions, which, after all, are candidates' real "active ingredients"?

Consumers make foodstuff purchases based, in part, on price and the disclosures made on the product packaging. Wouldn't it be great to be able to weigh the merits of political campaigns based on their "fat" content. Wouldn't it be helpful to readily discern which campaign is genuinely natural and wholesome, committed to providing us with a minimum amount of our daily requirements and not made up of fillers and artificial sweeteners?

Bonds are rated. Those asked to contribute to a particular election campaign may be concerned about "safety of principal" (if not "safety of principle"); they should have a way of knowing whether the candidate being touted is "investment grade." Is the candidate likely to meet his political debt obligations?

Campaign finance reform could be a lot simpler if we thought of candidates as small-cap stocks and mid-cap stocks. Contributing money to the campaign of a relatively unknown -- small-cap -- candidate carries more risk than investing in the campaign of a large-cap incumbent, but the leverage possibilities are greater.

The campaigns of mid-cap candidates are less speculative than the small-cap ventures, but dividends are by no means certain.

However, a portfolio of mid-caps can be a hedge against some of the vicissitudes of the political markets.

Alas, misrepresentation is rife in securities offerings, so the limited-partnership joint ventures between candidates and contributors may not yield reliable ratings.

Better to have food-and-drug disclosures: Is the guy salty? Acidic? Can he relieve pain, congestion and stress, without making us drowsy?

Hey, at core, candidates are packaged goods.


Joseph H. Cooper teaches writing at Quinnipiac University School of Law.

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