Updated: Dec 14, 2020
It used to be that what candidates thought actually mattered. I’m not suggesting that politicians were any smarter 40-50 years ago, but only that the electorate wasn’t as obsessed with Image. These days all a candidate needs is a lot of money and a healthy dose of good looks (which is why Romney will win the Republican nomination and Santorum will be second; and why George Washington and Abe Lincoln, if they were alive today and ran, wouldn’t even get past the Iowa Caucus). Given these two criteria, the third one seals the deal: conviction. The more firmly someone can stand on principles, the better. Forget whether those principles are morally defensible or ethically sound or socially wise or even economically viable. As long as a candidate believes something a lot, that’s all that matters in this increasingly dumbed-down electorate. And what do we get in return? A Confederacy of Dunces running for office using politics as verbal bloodsport. Think about it. If you can sufficiently demonize your opponent, you don’t have to concern yourself with being good. As long as someone else looks worse.
The idea of civility was long ago tossed to the side for the sake of political expediency, so that now politicians no longer debate, they just compete for sound-bite-of-the-evening awards. No wonder Huntsman dropped out. He was the only one of the Republicans worth a scintilla of serious consideration. But he realized, finally, that he was above all of this buffoonery. No room here for facile thinking and subtle distinctions, for careful negotiations. No real room here for actual, serious political dialogue. Politics has become nothing but a campaign for a catchy slogan. After all, we’ve learned to sustain ourselves entirely on pastry-thin soundbites, so why not? The most important criterion in politics now (after looks and money) is whether a politician has principles. But even Ferdinand Marcos had principles, they just weren’t very savory. Principles are like values. Everyone has them. Virtues, on the other hand… well, that’s for another post.
Meantime, the sheer adrenaline of all this political bluster clouds our ability to think and mucks with our aesthetic sensibilities. It changes what we think is beautiful ~ and true ~ and thus what is worthy of our attention. What’s beautiful and true are now whatever cause our adrenaline to spike. If we go to a museum and don’t have an epiphany, or see a movie and aren’t titillated or shocked out of our gourds, or watch a hockey game and no fights break out, or date someone and the “rush” dies down, or go to church and aren’t uplifted, or go to class and aren’t inspired, or have sex and don’t achieve orgasm, then something must be terribly wrong. We junkies feel cheated out of our fix.
But fear not, my fellow Americans, because the drug called politics is about to get like crack. And if our drug habit holds sway, we’ll get exactly what we deserve.