I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still hung over from the patriotic throw-down of the Summer Olympics and have subsequently begun counting down the days until beach volleyball once again rules the primetime airwaves. Part of the draw of the Olympic games is their emphasis on unique individual narratives of triumph and perseverance – a huge part of Olympic patriotism is just being able to look at these various Americans and say “Wow.”
The Olympic torch is long extinguished, and primetime news has now shifted its focus to the upcoming presidential election, which has pretty much reversed all of the work of the Olympics by draining every bit of overzealous patriotism from my bloodstream. While the Olympics inspired me to want to get up and go fight a grizzly bear, this current election has me wishing the bear could knock me out till next February.
Let’s turn back a few years.
In 2008, we had the war hero, the maverick John McCain, pitted against Barack Obama, a rising hero of the optimistic left with some high-flying rhetoric to boot. Each candidate had a genuinely interesting story. These were real characters, each with his own public mythology. There was a certain buzz from both the left and the right. This time around? The best we can do is Paul “P90x” Ryan, whose unique affections for Ayn Rand and bow hunting managed to create a decently interesting character profile for about a week.
Let’s face it: Barack’s lost his charm. He may be the same person, but his narrative is no longer what it used to be; he’s no inspirational underdog anymore. “Yes we can” now includes “in a little bit.” Only 37 percent of likely voters believe America is headed in the right direction – the highest level of optimism since June 2009. And Romney, well, he never really had any charm to begin with. To put it bluntly, nobody really likes him. Even Republicans don’t like him. Sure, a good number of people will vote for him, but it’s certainly not because they like him personally or are attracted to his story.
And what Romney lacks in personality, he certainly isn’t making up for in policy. A notorious flip-flopper, the only consistent position that Romney has held is that he is not Obama. This leaves us viewers back home with the battle between the anti-Obama and the watered-down Obama. Yawwwwn. Not even Bob Costas and a montage of childhood struggles set to a piano ballad could make either one of these campaigns remotely inspiring.
They’re boring. They’re uninspiring. Total duds. And they might be exactly what we need.
I believe that there will be a silver lining to Snorefest 2012 resulting from the high levels of cynicism it has implanted in the American masses. While widespread apathy and political distrust can be poisonous to democracy, in some ways I think this specific instance of executive dullness could help the American populace take a good hard look at themselves and the issues we face.
There was an interesting piece in Newsweek this past August discussing human tendencies to fall for scams (specifically financial investment scams). Certainly, neither campaign should be considered a Ponzi scheme. However, the get-rich-quick mentality that draws naive investors is the same one that suckers voters into a campaign of lofty rhetoric and expectation because they want a quick, simple solution to all of their problems.
My experience with presidential elections is limited by my age, but I’ve noticed a certain cycle with at least these past two elections: The closer we come to voting day, the more certain voters become that they’re supporting the guy, the one who will simultaneously save our economy while bringing peace to the Middle East within his first week in office. Testier YouTube exchanges rise and break-room debates escalate, and eventually we have Chuck Norris and his wife suggesting that Obama’s reelection will trigger a thousand years of darkness. (Seriously, Google “Chuck Norris’ dire warning.”)
Issues aren’t solved this way. Obviously, electing the right people to office is important. But endless bouts of commercials, rhetoric and bumper sticker campaigning isn’t going to provide a cure, and in one aspect, these campaigns end up diverting some attention from the issues, compressing the complexities of our problems into sound bites and bullet points – “platforms.”
These candidates suck. Good. Having a more sober conversation is needed, and this might be the start.
Then we can get to work on bringing beach volleyball back.
Contact John Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.