Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Politicians, Primaries, and... Can This Be Over Already?

A few weeks ago, I was going to do a little blog recap from yet another Obama/Clinton primary battle but I bored myself before I even started writing the post.

See, I was really into the primaries during the weeks leading up to Super Tuesday. Now, not so much. It's not that I'm not interested in the outcome, I'm just over it the politics. Lest anyone chalk this up to alleged Generation X (or am I Gen Y?) "political apathy," let me be clear. I am disgusted and annoyed by political campaigns. And frankly, as someone who leans toward the progressive side of things, the only person I see gaining from the prolonged primary battle between Clinton and Obama is the one person out of the three remaining contenders that I think is the worst person for the job: John McCain.

If you are as bored and/or disgusted as I am with politics, politicians, and primaries, keep reading and I'll try not to bore you too much.

1. Distractions

Like many Americans, the games politicians play while campaigning disgust me. Frankly, I don't care that "[Insert person associated with Clinton/Obama] said [insert overblown, out-of-context "offensive" statement] and therefore Clinton/Obama should immediately denounce that person in Very Strong Terms." That game is not relevant to how good of a president someone will be. Nor is it relevant to the pressing issues of war, health care, immigration, the economy, and the environment- issues in which all of us should be infinitely more interested.

And that's why what the actual candidate says, does, and has said and done in the past is more important with respect to his or her candidacy than is what any other person says or does. Advisers, staff members, and religious leaders play roles in the lives and campaigns of candidates, but a candidate does not and cannot control every thought and statement that people close to him or her make. Nor are these people puppets who magically speak for a candidate. Holding our candidates up to the impossible standard of being responsible for everything that comes out of the mouth of other human beings is a distracting game that politicians use to try to discredit each other.

To keep people watching the news, the media continually feeds us these irrelevant stories. I mean, let's face it, by now anyone who's been paying attention already knows what each candidate thinks about the issues. At this stage, the game has turned into who is best able to discredit the other's character, history, and personality the "best." Bob Herbert in The New York Times challenges, for good reason, the media to stop its obsessive focus on Reverend Wright-gate and instead to "focus in a sustained way on some other important matters, like the cratering economy, metastasizing energy costs, the dismal state of public education, the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or the damage being done to the American soul by the endless war in Iraq."

In our democracy, the citizenry is given the important task of electing its leadership. How can we be entrusted to do so in the way that is most beneficial to ourselves and our country when the media consistently and obsessively feeds us information that is irrelevant and distracting to the candidates' positions on issues?

2. Labels

Another "fun" game in politics, particularly seen in opinion pieces of some sort, is the one in which commentators try to shame people into voting for the candidate of one's choice. This game is also known as the "if you don't support Clinton, you are automatically sexist" or "if you don't support Obama, you are automatically racist" game.

Just because life is really that simple, I suppose.

Yes, there are people who won't support Obama because of his race, or Clinton because of her gender, and those people are sexist and racist. But, believe it or not, it is possible to support Obama/Clinton because you think s/he would make the better leader.

Who, if not liberals and the Democrats, are going to scare people into voting for certain candidates at the risk of being labeled something that is really "bad" and un-PC to be?

3. Republicans Continue to Get a Free Pass

During this campaign, the question has been raised as to why Democrats must denounce those who make offensive statements, while Republicans rarely denounce evangelical and fundamentalist "polarizers" like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others.

Short answer: Unlike the liberal base of the Democrats who acknowledge that things like sexism, racism, and homophobia do exist, Republicans making such sexist, racist, or homophobic statements rarely admit that they said something wrong. Men like Jerry Falwell are utterly convinced as to their righteousness, and many Republicans are likewise as convinced, that they believe their polarizing and offensive comments are justified because they are true. And besides, everyone knows that a war on Christianity is going on right now, so Christians are the ones who are "truly" oppressed.

This attitude creates a situation where Republicans get a free pass on making highly offensive statements within the safe confines of their own party, yet both Democrats and Republicans alike rail on offensive statements made by Democrats and Democrat-supporters. The Democratic base, for instance, would not let one of "their" politicians get away with saying something like "Gay people are worse than terrorists" as the Republican base has. And similarly, when John McCain's pastor John Hagee says that a "curse" is on our nation because we allow abortion and the teaching of evolution, there is no uproar or cries for McCain to denounce in Very Strong Terms (tm) this statement.

Unfortunately, I think what all of this means is that when either Obama or Clinton finally wins the nomination, neither of them will end up really winning. And that makes losers out of most of us.

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