Sunday, February 03, 2008

What If They Gave A Race, and Everybody Strolled?

This might be a good year for us to start questioning the need to inject "race" into our political campaigns. And no, I am not talking about the Clintons flirting with the race card in the Democratic primary or whether it's really Obama playing race.

No, I'm talking about this persistent illusion that an election is a race. It's called a "race" in all of the news coverage. Its progress is followed by news commentators who narrate it as if it were a football game (gosh, I wonder why a football metaphor occurs to me today!) We could hear more deliberative and in-depth analysis of policy positions and fact-checking from our press, but most of the time it's a blow-by-blow of sound bytes and zingers and one-liners.

Sarah likes to listen to KFWB in the morning. One morning last week, the commentators spent several minutes trying to parse McCain and Romney's personal feelings for each other, as if this were relevant to anything. Sadly, a great deal of mainstream news coverage compares meagerly to the gossip among sixth graders in a lunch room.

Then of course there are the polls. The constantly-refreshing opinion samples are compared and built up as if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were actually running a marathon. Yesterday's numbers show her a little bit ahead, but oh! Look! This new poll shows Obama pulling ahead.

They do this so that we keep watching, and keep exposing ourselves to their advertisers.

May I say this about the emperor's clothes? THERE IS NO RACE. And frankly, I don't want one. I am not voting for captain of the track team. I am voting to select someone for the highest office in the land, someone who will be commander in chief of the world's most powerful military arsenal, someone who will be burdened with the tremendous responsibility over the executive branch of my government and speaking for the United States on the world stage.

The only aspect of the primary I will recognize as a "race" is a race against the clock. The candidates running for their parties' nominations are, I will grant, in a bit of a race to make their case to voters across 24 states and American Samoa. Fine, I'll give you that.

Other than the rushing around to address as many audiences as possible before the voting, there is no race. There is a period of debate: candidates debating each other, and the rest of us chattering amongst ourselves. There are advertisements and rallies. There are parades of endorsements. Boil it down, and what you have is a period of talking and thinking. Finally, the day comes, and we vote. Then the votes are counted and a winner is declared.

If we must resort to a dramatic metaphor to give elections some character, how about swapping the "race" for a "trial?" If it's a trial, voters become jurors, and we have a responsibility to listen to the cases presented by these candidates and assess something beyond the price of their haircuts or whether they are polling better among left-handed Hispanic piano-tuners. The juror listens to the opposing arguments, deliberates, and issues a verdict on election day.

I'll keep squawking it as long as I have this tiny soapbox in cyberspace: the only opinion poll that matters - at ALL - is the general election. The polls are only there to feed the narrative of "the race" and give the news programs something to gossip about while they wait for the election. Perhaps they feel that's a safer bet than actually bringing on knowledgable people to talk about the candidates' ideas and tell us which ones are full of shit. Too many important questions are going unasked while we are fed fake news.

On Tuesday morning, California has its primary. Sarah and I plan on getting up early in the morning and walking down the hill to the church where we vote. We will stroll languidly, enjoying the neighbors' gardens and the morning sky. We definitely will not race.

1 comment:

Jane R said...

Thanks, Mu Mun. Good to read this. Happy strolling.