Safeway used to have good fig newtons. Although "Fig Newtons" is a brand name, much like kleenex or heroin, it has become universally used, as opposed to the stodgy fig bars. For those not inside their service area, Safeway is a mid-level supermarket chain, being neither ritzy nor discount. And until a few months ago, they had a storebrand whole wheat fig newton that was very good.
Figs are high in fiber, so a good fig containing pastry will, along with its sweet onset, have a long tail of sugar being slowly released in the body. Such a mix was a good thing for me, with the high-protein, high-fiber whole wheat fig newton from Safeway being a good alternative to the common candy bar I might reach for elsewise. In fact, they were also a better choice than the official Fig Newton brand fig newton, which despite its packaging, was basically a normal, over-processed, sugar and white flour Fig Newton with a few pinches of whole wheat flour dumped into the mix to give the illusion of health.
A few months ago, my beloved Safeway storebrand whole wheat fig newtons disappeared from the shelf. Although I mourned them briefly, I realized that Safeway, as a modern chainstore, can only do so much in the way of customer satisfaction. There were already a full host of Fig Newton brand products, including apple, cherry and pretty much every member of Rosaceae besides maybe quince. So discontinuing a niche flavor of their store brand seemed to be a reasonable thing.
So imagine my happy surprise some weeks or months later, when I saw Safeway storebrand whole wheat fig newtons back on the shelf. I bought a package, opened it up, and lustily tore into its sweet yet wholesome texture. But, I begin to suspect that something was wrong. They seemed to be sweet and listless, a mere shadow of their former self. At first I thought I was only imagining it, perhaps my expectations had been driven too high by deprivation. But then I turned to look at the hard data: and in the nutrition information, I saw that the protein and fiber content had been slashed. What was once a healthy snack was now just a mix of white flour and sugar.
I am sure the saga of Safeway store brand whole wheat fig newtons is fascinating, but at this point, the reader may be asking: What did it teach Glowing Fish about the American political process? Because in the title it says that it taught him something about the American political process, and we've learned a lot about the varying protein content of the bars, but very little about the American political process.
Safeway changed the formula for their product for a reason. They had a healthy product, which they had to withdraw and replace with a less healthy product. And what could have inspired to do this? Quite simply, the best explanation is that not that many people were interested in buying the old product. So they made a product that people would buy.
One of the constant refrains I hear is that corporations are out to poison us and make us fat and stupid. Unless the corporation involved is actually selling something addictive, the corporation isn't telling people what to buy. People are telling the corporation what to make. The corporation has very little interest in poisoning you. It isn't out to destroy you.
As an aside, I would probably place the blame for all of this on 1980's television. We are led to believe that when given enough power, such as the leadership of a secretive global criminal organization, the person invested with that power will want to use it to chase down, say, a lone bumbling detective, which even if he has an unnaturally large number of cybernetic modifications, seems like an unlikely thing to do with that much power.
And this brings us to the American political process. Why do politicians put their messages in such heavy-handed, simplistic and inflammatory terms? Why do they demonize their opponents? Why do they make promises that they can't possibly keep? Why does their message boil down into a thirty second "magic bullet" solution? And why must they be begging money from powerful interests to get this message across? Along with rubbing shoulders with donors, they also must hire some fairly unscrupulous people to make slickly-prepared, distorted ads on their opponents. So why do they do this? Are they all just bad people?
The average person in politics is very smart, very successful, and in many cases, is pretty academically aware of the ins and outs of public policy. They were probably reading the basic political documents, like the works of James Mill and Thomas Hobbes in high school, and they have probably heard every argument from the left and the right, and its refutations, and the refutations of the refutations to the nth degree. Maybe they studied at some fancy school, and they wrote a 120 page thesis in graduate school about the history of public utilities in the Upper Midwest, or something else suitably dry.
So why are people like this slinging mud and throwing out cliches and strawmen left and right?
Because that is what voters want.
Which isn't to say that politicians don't hate each other. Politicians do hate each other, and some of the anger you see is real, based on everything from moral indignation to petty personal feuds. Politicians are attracted to power, and some of them might enjoy using it just to crush people.
But still, a simpler explanation for why simplistic advertising and the attendant race for money is so important is just that it is what the public demands. If voters decide that a thirty second ad using cliche demonization methods is what will sway their vote, then that is what politicians will give them. It would probably be much more restful for the politician running for office to get to explain to an attentive audience for 10 minutes just why they have to support a tax increase or a cut to a popular program. But if the audience won't listen, if the audience wants a simple answer, and that is the only way to get elected, then the politician must give them that to be elected.
In short, substandard, shoddy, unwholesome and otherwise weak products, whether they be a storebrand whole wheat fig newton or an entire political campaign, don't exist because they are being pushed on you by people who are gloating over getting the chance to degrade you. It is something that you, or perhaps a sizable majority of people like you, are actively demanding.
Adjust your behavior accordingly.