Thursday, May 10, 2012

Great Bores of the Modern Age: Presidential Candidates 2012

Politics seems like it ought to be fun. I'm not entirely sure why it isn't (though my guesses would be, in order, too much NFL football, too many cable channels, prescription drugs and national illiteracy). I don't blame either of the current presidential candidates for having made the profession so numbingly boring. Not just boring - self-righteous, which is even worse because it's boring and irritating all at once. You know, one hopeful states his hesitant support for legalizing another form of marriage, the other of necessity takes the opposing stance. No scope for the moral imagination, no chance of surprising the folks at home, no discussion of nuance and little concern for what might be best for most of the citizens.

Political motives always leave it uncipherable whether either party has the moral high ground on any question. Questions one might have thought settled long ago (civil rights, energy policy, freedom from unwarranted searches and surveillance, sane and equitable gun and drug laws, to name a few) still beggar any progress. It seems fair enough to hope that we might have figured a few of these things out by now.

Lord knows it's been this way since long before - pick one - okay, William Howard Taft (the "Chris Christie of the early 20th century") won the office from his opponent, the tent revivalist, foe of the gold standard and of Darwinism, and general evangelical flaneur William Jennings Bryan. Given how far modernity, affluence, education and scientific progress have brought this great nation, thank our ministering angels we needn't fight those battles any longer.

W. H. Taft, "Mr. Excitement"
Be that as it may, back in 1909, in a "veritable pageant of military splendor, social brilliance, courtly formality, official protocol, and patriotic fervor," Taft actually managed to walk across the international border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez without being gunned down, collapsing from exertion and heat prostration, or being run over by a taxicab with a blaring antique public address system affixed to its roof, in order to solicit an "expression" from the presiding Díaz government of its continued support of American investments in Mexico. Now that's exciting stuff. "Expressions" are the very warp and weft of diplomacy, and when Taft went out for a walk he got things done - none of this shooting-hoops-and-wasting-time-high-fiving stuff. Taft was all business, business was the business of the Taft presidency. And so on.

It's not just domestic politics, either. Take Russia, for example, where things are rigged a bit differently, given that the Koch Brothers and the Supreme Court are still living in Wichita. Even if you could, would you vote for the candidate below without holding your nose? He looks like the guy who just killed your dog and ate your iguana while you were in the other room watching "Storage Wars."

 V. Putin, "Mr. Excitement"

Perhaps the single redeeming feature of Russian political maneuvering is that there aren't any debates, however unpresidential they may be in fact. Although, to be fair, our own GOP debates did unearth some pretty spectacular political positions, like the consensual refusal to condone either abortion or the general and lawful availability of contraceptives (these being unrelated questions in the conservative moral universe). Nonetheless, politics in Russia is interesting, but maybe for the wrong reason - depending on how you voted, you never know what might happen to you in the aftermath. It's also interesting because it elicits heartfelt (if that's the word I want) protests:

Moscow, Dec. 9, 2011

On the other hand, they manage these things much better in Mexico. Natalia Juarez, a 34-year-old philosophy instructor at Universidad de Guadalajara and a Mexican congressional candidate, posted campaign flyers in Guadalajara showing herself and six of her lady friends topless. Juarez is running on the ticket of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, which has a nice ring to it.


In our own land of the free and the brave, the party's name alone could bring down a drone strike on some wedding party anywhere in the 51 United States - meaning of course the continental 48, Alaska, Hawaii or Kenya, our president's birth state. Ms. Juarez explains that, "It's an attempt to run a campaign that is different and cheerful, but also an invitation for people to reveal who they are and commit themselves." In a land devoid of super-PACs, the candidate wishes "to make an impact and not go unnoticed" by making full use of the scant resources she has available.

It's a campaign that has enlisted both scantness and scantiness in the public interest. I, for one, applaud more of both in global politics. It's easy enough to campaign with a scant few ideas - Eric Cantor does it every day. But it takes real balls to campaign with scant resources.

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