Starting Point: Whatever Happened to Potholders?


This article originally appeared in Issue# 44

Whatever happened to potholders?

You know, the ones we always used to get at election time, dropped off by door-to-door canvassers on their appointed neighborhood rounds.

Or we got them at rallies in the school cafeteria. My parents may have gone to debate the issues, but for us kids, bringing home those potholders was one of our first lessons in civic responsibility.

In 1986 the California Senate race was the most expensive Senate campaign in history. Between them Alan Cranston and Ed Zchau raised nearly $28 million. Of that, over $20 million went to media expenses: buying time, producing spots and programs, hiring consultants and polling voters in order to determine how to better position their candidates for the evening news. The remaining few million was spent on everything else: airplanes, hotel rooms, office space, telephones, salaries, etc. Long gone are the days when money raised for political campaigns went back into the community — for precinct captains and neighborhood rallies, canvassers and their limitless supply of potholders. The fact of the matter is that the need for mass media, particularly television, has so shifted the cash flow out of the community and into technology as to markedly change the electoral process in this country.

We cannot, of course, ever go back to the way things were before TV. But the challenge of democracy in an electronic era is an issue we can no longer ignore.