Assuming that interpretations of the Mayan calendar are wrong and the world won’t end on December 21, the presidential campaign of 2012 is about as close as we’re going to come to end-times mania. Maybe I should say “depressia.”
Mitt Romney’s campaign of lies seemed stuck on an an adjective accelerator, from big to bigger to biggest. Maybe the latter was his claim that President Obama bankrupted Chrysler which was now moving all Jeep jobs to China. Maybe it was that he opposed overturning Roe v. Wade. The accelerator moves too quickly to judge.
However the election turns out, Romney took the legacy press to something of a crisis point (or a teaching moment if we want to be kind). What is a reporter to do when one candidate just rejects reality, all previous statements and well-known facts? In a real way the Romney campaign and its operatives were saying a free press no longer matters. Political campaigns have always stretched the truth, of course. And presidents have lied. But I don’t remember a campaign of the past whose very premise was the Lie. It’s as if Romney’s real campaign message was, “I’ll Lie for You.”
The campaign, from start to finish, seemed more like a sack race in an asylum than a contest for the leader of the Free World. Remember those Republican debates? Remember when Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s “oops” moment was big news? All the GOP hopefuls were so afraid of America’s Hard Right that they came close to advocating the summary executions of everyone suspected of being less than a papers-carrying citizen. Maybe they did, but since memory is now the first victim of the modern political campaign, I can’t recall.
The manic behavior didn’t start or stop with loony candidates. This is the first presidential election I’ve gone through while participating in the Twitterverse. As a source of news, Twitter was terrific. I was able to follow some of the writers and analysts I respect.
I have to confess, however, that Twitter simply wore me out. It was the party I couldn’t leave ’cause it always seemed there was one more pretty fact about to sashay into the club. One hundred and forty characters passing by me at the speed of light was often more than I could take. It was like looking for the One True Sentence written on a ping pong ball being slammed back and forth by world champion ping pong players.
Also written on the plastic balls were one million polls, each of them with one million interpreters. By the end I longed for the days of the single ping pong ball, because it seemed to me I was now being asked to learn the current political landscape by reading regression analyses on the churning plastic balls of a lottery machine.
Did I mention that in the middle of all this the Republican Party decided to go all in on voter suppression? The GOP launched a serious effort to return to the 19th century when non-whites, women and property-poor Americans were denied the right to vote. They aren’t even hiding it. It’s like the Campaign of Lies. They dare America to call them what they are, figuring that what they are is so extreme that few will believe it if someone takes the dare.
Then there was the massive press over-reaction to Obama’s flat performance in the first debate. Judging from the coverage, you would have thought Obama, behind a Nixonian five o’clock shadow and a sweaty upper lip, had compared himself to JFK and said “oops” after claiming that pre-1989 Eastern Europe wasn’t under Soviet domination. But Obama didn’t make any substantive mistakes. He was just uninspiring. “Meth” Romney, on the other hand, gave a Red Bull performance that was downright scary. If he’d acted like that sitting next to me in a bar I would have left the place in a hurry.
Another word about this. Obama’s performance was poor, no doubt about it. However, if a magician had appeared in America and made all the post-debate cable pundits disappear (a guy can dream, can’t he?), I don’t believe the polls would have moved an inch. Romney got a bounce from the exaggerated press analyses, not the debate. I know, I know, I’m splitting hairs here because there is no distinction between debate and post-debate. It is all one circus. Political journalists are the stars of debates because for those brief shining moments the campaign is not a campaign billions of dollars in television commercials that penetrate the psyches of voters without intervention from the press. The press is back in charge.
I get the sense that the collective soul of America understands that our democracy is about as secure as the permafrost. Oh, and speaking of global warming, how can there be a presidential campaign in 2012 that completely ignores the greatest danger humankind has ever faced? Really? America was once worried that Russian subs would come up the Mississippi River and, I dunno, poison our precious bodily fluids or something. Americans like to be scared. Why don’t they like to be scared of the looming environmental catastrophe? Maybe because it is not a movie they can walk back to their cars from after the lights come up.
Among my favorite characters in this season-long disaster of a campaign are those pundits and players who keep channeling Jack Nicholson from Mars Attacks. “Why can’t we all just get along?” Well, for just one reason, we don’t want to. On one side are authoritarians happy to bring back racial segregation, gender inequality, poor houses and forced child labor. On the other side are people who, well, don’t want those things. (I wish our side was a little better at messaging than this. But oh well, once our team gave up so many draft choices in order to get the truth on our side, we were bound to face some disadvantages.)
Actually, I think there a many, perhaps a majority, of regular Republican folk who don’t really share the extremist views of those in control of their party and their political campaigns. But they have been intimidated into silence. There are no extremists on the Left with the voice and power of extremists on the Right. That’s a false equivalency advanced by journalists afraid they will be attacked if they point truthfully to the real villains.
I don’t know. All I can do is struggle to see the messages written on the ping pong balls. Sometimes I think Mars has already attacked. And won.