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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Presidential Snake Oil

If you're anywhere near a television these days, it's just about impossible to avoid some flack's political promotion for his or her presidential candidate, hawking their modern day snake oil as the panacea to the world's problems. Beyond the sheer opportunism, it's almost embarrassing to see how readily the public consumes the same boasts, promises and revelations spewed forth by politicians. But even more ridiculous is the public's acceptance of those boasts, promises and revelations as being entirely new.

Think your candidate is promising you new solutions to old problems? Maybe you should think again:

Would you like to see a Constitutional Amendment outlawing employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, pregnancy or medical condition? Yeah? Well, surprise! It's been law in the United States since 1964, known officially as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

How about a Federal law that protects job applicants and employees who are over 40 from employment discrimination based on age? You like that? Here's the news on that one: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act has been in effect longer than its youngest beneficiaries have been alive. That's right, the ADEA has been on the books since 1967. Not a whole lot new there, either.

If you're in a wheelchair, blind or otherwise disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been in force since 1990, which is just about the time all those good parking spaces vanished.

Think women deserve equal pay for equal work? Apparently, so has the Federal government -- since 1963. Your basic politician wouldn't tell you this, but the Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender for similar work performed under similar conditions. Which means Gloria Steinem was still a Playboy bunny when this legislation was hammered down and finalized in every state of the union.

Here's one that should open your eyes: Think all those illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs? What do you suppose is the solution to illegal immigration? If you're the United States Congress, it's the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which makes it unlawful for any employer to hire any person who is not legally authorized to work in the United States. It actually requires employers to verify and prove their employees' legal status, but forbids discrimination based on national origin or lack of citizenship. And this was law of the land years before the first fear-based "terrorist threats to America" became the driving force behind everything we do and say today.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? The youngest of these pressing political solutions has been proposed, accepted and ratified by every state in the union for over 20 years, yet for some reason, political candidates seem to think they need to bring something new to the party. Here's a really novel idea:

How about saving everyone a lot of time and money and just enforcing the laws that are already in place? Duh.

There is a reason, of course, and this is it: The American public has no idea these issues have already been addressed. Most can't recall their civil rights, even when prompted. And a survey conducted in the late 1990's found that when read to them, most respondents felt the Bill of Rights was too radical to be adopted into the United States Constitution.

In a word, clueless.

In politics, as it does in branding, the first step in developing a solution is understanding the problem. Maybe if people really want solutions that work, they shouldn't be looking for them in the empty, hack stunts and slogans of politicians. Perhaps they should be looking more closely at the people who vote for them.

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