I’m pissed off. For so long, I and other independent political observers could only speculate that America’s tender democracy — a system so beloved by so many so-called patriots that its advancement around the globe has cost this nation almost unfathomable quantities of blood and treasure in wars both hot and cold — is tragically flawed, not so much by any philosophical error on the part of the Founding Fathers, but by the willing ignorance of the citizenry and the dutiful deception and manipulation of that once-proud body by its government. Anyone paying attention could also reasonably deduce the mainstream media has sold out, as well, trading Truth and substantive discourse for ratings buzz and cheap headlines. The whole thing, it could be reasoned, is broken beyond repair.
I often took solace in the uncertainty of my cynicism, though, the inability to prove my pessimism, the thought that maybe I’m just one of many arrogant doomsayers incapable of seeing all the inherent good in a system built around something as fair as the Jeffersonian concept of one man, one vote. It’s romantic, after all, isn’t it? And there’s something to be said for romantic notions of equality. At the very least, perhaps the little plan outlined all those years ago on a now-tattered swatch of parchment deserves the benefit of the doubt.
But then this fucking primary season happened, and my worst fears have been confirmed, all those monsters lingering in the closet of my consciousness proven real by this campaign without end. I knew it was coming, too, when after having overachieving through Super Tuesday and then rattling off twelve consecutive primary and caucus wins Barack Obama had still failed to wrap up the Democratic nomination for president. The whole affair has since devolved into a back-and-forth battle between whoever happens to be most popular at a given moment in time, Obama or Hillary Clinton, based on some bullshit tangential issue that, thanks to rampant media harping, grips the nation and distracts from the things that matter most — economic and health-care plans, foreign-policy goals, ending our current war and avoiding our next one.
I cannot think of a single policy difference between Obama and Clinton that has been discussed at length in the media, and thus in the public forum. The debate has been dominated by red-phones and phony sniper fire, by the (gasp!) controversial comments of a pastor and the legitimacy of red, white, and blue lapel pins. It’s all bullshit. Not a single thing discussed in the last three months will make a whiff of difference when it comes to either candidate’s ability to effectively lead this country out of the muck of the last seven-plus years.
The media will have you believe that the reason they spend so much time dealing with this nonsense is because the candidates are in basic agreement on matters of policy and, even if there were subtle differences, those in the Heartland are more interested in the base and the rudimentary than they are in the complex and the nuanced. They are just giving the people what they want.
What a patronizing load of crap. Some news pimp in New York or D.C. has no idea what issues matter to people in Kansas or Missouri, so they make a guess based on some stereotype they’ve seen on TV and pander to this least common denominator. To those who control the media, Middle Americans are just a bunch of bumpkins unable to understand anything more complex than God, guns, booze, and bowling scores. And that is what they pump over the airwaves and print in the papers, as if no other topics exist.
Right now, for instance, there is a legitimate political discussion going on about whether a moratorium on the federal gas tax during peak summer driving months will help stimulate the sluggish economy and provide a bit of relief to those who think cheap gas is their birthright. There are legitimate differences on this issue between Obama and Clinton, and those differences actually reveal quite a bit about the overriding political philosophy of each senator. But you’d never know it by watching the news. All you hear is what Obama’s crazy former pastor just said about white people and the black church and AIDS and the government. Some people are outraged. Others think it’s no big deal.
And that debate, not the one going on between the candidates regarding matters of policy, is what will decide not just the Democratic primary but the general election, as well, because, mark my words, something else will come up. Some marginal issue will overwhelm the campaign, and the public will be once again duped into thinking that likability is more important than effective leadership skills.
That is what we’re left with. That is what will decide the fate of this nation. That is our democracy, the thing for which so many men and women have given their lives, nothing but a marketing contest, our system of government no better than the system used to sell ice cream and laundry detergent on the cheap. I only wish voters were as savvy as the average Wal-Mart shopper.
~ Chris Rosenbluth