It is time for bold change. As I watch us wade through what is possibly the longest election cycle in history, I wonder if the newly added length is adding to the scrutiny with which voters are viewing our next president or reducing it. The obvious assumption is that a longer election cycle, like the advent of 24-hour news stations, has increased media coverage and scrutiny in the electoral process – that the additional time candidates spend before the cameras and consequently the American people is sharpening the distinctions between them and giving the American people a longer and more detailed look at them.

I personally find this hypothesis to be completely wrong. I think that rather than increase the scrutiny, rather than increase the needed perfection, rather than increase the voters’ understanding of the details of their candidates’ policy stances, the extended coverage has exhausted the American people long before they even began to pay attention.

Just as the flashier news coverage designed to attract more viewers has reduced the amount of news people take in, so has the overplayed, drawn-out horse race that our presidential primary process has become reduced to minute levels the amount of information on any one candidate’s stance we take in.

Most of the “presidential” debates thus far have lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. For comparison, the pre- and post-debate analyses of each candidate’s performance have lasted hours longer. In the case of the most recent Republican debate, which took place in the late afternoon, the post-debate analysis lasted all night. While the pundits and talking heads jabbered about the ridiculousness of a debate – on the economy, no less – at a time when most working people couldn’t watch it, they failed to point out that by the time the 6, 10 and 11 p.m. news rolled around, the video clips, sound bites and final analyses were all prepared and ready to roll.

No one saw the debate, but everyone saw the post-debate. The responsibility of watching the candidates recite their rhetoric was removed from the shoulders of the American people. Instead, they got the Hardball, Lou’s Cannons, Situation Room, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly – no spin zone – analysis on their nightly news. Significantly more convenient, no?

The notion that entertainment has conquered news media is not new, nor am I seeking to make a moral judgment about the state of mainstream media in the United States – or rail against the man who, in a great conspiracy, is stopping the progress of Democracy by controlling our thoughts and minds. I merely wish to point out that during this historic election cycle, one with nearly 20 presidential candidates, we are faced with an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We can choose between nearly 20 different sets of viewpoints and personalities for the person we want most to lead our nation.

We can choose between candidates from the Northeast, the South, the West, the heartland, both coasts, the fly-over states; short of a major candidate from Hawaii or Alaska, we have total geographic diversity.

We also have racial and gender diversity: a woman, two African Americans and one Latino candidate. One candidate is related to a former President, one played one on TV and another is related to the current Vice President. There is a doctor (gynecologist), a few lawyers, a diplomat, an actor, governors, congressmen, senators, a reverend and military figures – and they range in age from the mid-40s to mid-60s.

Never before has there been such an opportunity for Americans to pick a president from so wide an array of choices. We have Republicans advocating continuation, escalation and immediate withdrawal from Iraq. While on the other side of the aisle, there are Democrats with mirroring positions, continuing the war, a partial drawdown of troops or rapid redeployment out of Iraq and an immediate end to the war.

There is similar diversity in the candidates’ views on immigration, the need for universal health care, energy dependence, the role of God in our schools and taxes. There are pro-gun Democrats and Republicans who hate on the NRA.

I don’t expect that this column will radically alter the entire country’s attitudes or following of this race, but I do want to point out the opportunity before us with the hope that some will take notice.

For the past nine months, and for at least three more, these candidates have and will continue to parade around the country, offering their views on the issues and vision for the nation. I urge you to participate and voice your opinion. This is our world, and our vote.

Kirstein is a member of the class of 2009.

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