Though the economic recession continues to lay on the nation’s future like a wet, suffocating blanket, political campaigns can’t be blamed for the dearth. In addition to all the usual staffing positions, like Campaign Manager, Communications Director, and Fundraiser, an increasing number of campaigns around the country are employing individuals as “trackers”
These individuals, usually college-aged and armed with low-end video cameras, follow their opposing candidates everywhere with a simple goal. They are waiting for their prey to screw up.
It seems that most anything goes in this task: a misstatement of facts, a social blunder, or verbal gaffe caught on tape; any of these can rapidly be churned through a campaign public relations machine into political ammunition.
The high water mark was in 2006 when Virginia Senator George Allen made his infamous “macaca” comment, which was both directed at and recorded on video by S.R. Sidarth of the now-Senator Jim Webb’s campaign.
In recent weeks, however, the camera lenses have been turned as several trackers have become the subject of scrutiny after high profile incidents.
In one such incident, North Carolina U.S. Congressman Bob Etheridge was confronted by an unnamed youth with a video camera who asked about Mr. Etheridge’s support of the “Obama agenda” as he walked down the street in Washington, D.C. in mid-June. The Congressman got into a physical altercation with the man which later led to an apology from Etheridge.
The fad isn’t just a federal one. In Connecticut, trackers have become the subject of scrutiny in the Democratic gubernatorial primary as both the Lamont and Malloy campaigns send videographers to each others’ events in search of political kryptonite. Malloy and Lamont have both been known to introduce their opponents trackers to the crowd at press conferences.
Given the importance of the races and the sheer number of people that will be represented by the Governor, the role that trackers fill is in familiarizing us with candidates that we generally don’t get to know well. It fills our curiosity – who are these people who want to lead us?
But for playing to our curiosity and voyeurism, it is equally clear that we pay a price as a society.
The tactic plays to our more base suspicion that politicians are scoundrels and a snippet of video of a Congressman with his hand on a tormenter may just be the evidence we need to validate our preconceived notions.
Rather than substance, the product of these trackers plays to our emotional relationships rather than a careful assessment of which candidate may be better suited to the job or represent the political views that we would seek to be championed. It is a sordid byproduct of a reality-TV culture that guiltily relishes the voyeurism of always-on cameras.
The solution is equally simple, though. Ignore the television ads, bypass the dramatics of the horseracing and the salaciousness of the process stories so that you can focus on the public policy questions that confront our society and shape our dialogue in the marketplace of ideas.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He also is the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com.