In October last year, the American TV satirist Jon Stewart organised a mass rally in Washington attended by tens of thousands of people. The 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear' was an attempt to restore a level of moderation to political debate. Stewart's message was against the sensationalism and divisiveness of both the media and politicians generally, he wasn't taking sides rather than suggesting everyone should take some blame.
On Saturday a member of the U.S. congress, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot as she sat outside a neighbourhood supermarket running a 'Congress on Your Corner' session, designed to break down the barriers between politicians and the electorate. As I write this she is fighting for her life in hospital, 6 others are dead. During the bitter arguments around healthcare reform, Giffords had been highlighted as a supporter of these reforms by a website, linked to Sarah Palin, using rifle cross hairs to mark where she lived on a map.
American voters have long been sick and tired of the perceived ineptitude of their politicians to get on and deliver what is right for the country. This frustration has led to the rise of groups like the Tea Party but also an increase in heated rhetoric that often borders on abuse.
The shrillness of the debate around President Obama's healthcare reforms is just one example where political attacks have overstepped the line. Reasoned debate has been left behind as dangerously over-inflated claims and counter claims, aimed at grabbing hold of the news agenda, are deployed by both sides of the argument.
America has the most professionalised political system in the world. In campaigning terms we in the UK frequently look to and learn from their latest developments in campaigning; whether at the grassroots level or new forms of mass media communication. What we should also learn is that moderation in politics is also a good thing. This doesn't mean that politicians should ignore their principles or deviate from what is right. Instead they should take a breath before lampooning their rivals for short term political gain. It is all to easy to allow a dangerous political name calling arms race to develop which detracts from the real issues, stops politicians getting things done.
The fabled checks and balances in the American political system have to a worrying degree stopped being a positive attribute allowing all parties to shape the debate, instead they are creating division and polarising politics. Jon Stewart recognised this and used the power of the media to create something positive while highlighting others errors. For this reason Jon Stewart is my outstanding media communicator of 2010.