Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pres 08: Everything but Substance

(News-Herald, September 4) If nothing else, the Presidential election has opened up chances to prod every single raw nerve in the American psyche.

The Democrats started things off by serving up race and gender. It has been a remarkable two-layer conversation. Hardly anyone will come out in public and say, “I won’t vote for Obama because he’s black.” And yet it seems almost everyone knows a person who has said privately, “I won’t vote for any black guy.”

But Obama, like every other raw-nerve prod in the election is two-fer—not only the tripwire of being a black American, but a name that evokes the Muslims that we aren’t quite sure how to address these days.

And he’s young. Like most folks, I define “young” as “younger than I am.” Which means I’m feeling like quite the fossil, because now we have TWO people younger than I am running for high office. How the heck did that happen? And how can we give leadership of this country to either of these children?

And Obama beat Hillary, who many people hate because she’s Hillary, and because her presence drags Bill Clinton, another raw American nerve, back into the public spotlight, leading to yet another tough American dialogue about whether it’s better new history to elect an African-American than a woman. Which of course brings up the issue of whether Obama is African-American enough. Or at all.

But give the Republicans their due. McCain calls up the specter of Bush’s incredibly brutal previous primary campaign (in which the Bushies suggested that McCain fathered an illegitimate black child). McCain is also a two-fer, at least, evoking the war in Iraq and the Vietnam war.

And he’s old. Really old. So now we can talk about how we feel about old people and how much we trust them. Since the first boomer was born, we’ve been beaten tired over the clash of generations; here it is again on our November ballot.

Family values? Where to begin. John Edwards was willing to risk the Dem chances on an affair that he’s definitely, probably, maybe, ended. More or less. What kind of politician would take up with another woman while his own wife was fighting terrible illness? Well, say some, that was McCain, too.

Don’t have enough to argue about yet? Here comes Palin with her daughter, brought up under the abstinence-only education that her mother championed and now pregnant at age 17. Lefties think this is reason enough to laugh Palin off the political stage, failing to understand that people don’t back abstinence-only education because they think it works. They back it because they think it’s right. So lets drag out sex-ed, birth control, and responsibility as topics.

Abortion is not an option for the daughter, as it wasn’t for Palin’s downs-syndrome baby. But that raises another issue—should a woman with so much on her motherly (and grandmotherly) plate be leaving hearth and home for DC? But isn’t it only fair to leave families out of this mess? But if that’s so, is it okay to hold children in the spotlight when they do admirable things like serve in the military? Exactly how much should family be a factor in an election?

The hot buttons just keep coming. How much experience is too much? How little is too little? Are we too racist or too sexist? Should women be expected to vote for a woman, no matter what her policies?

Or we can get into personalities. Is Obama too upperclass, or is that just code for uppity? Are we voting for the new McCain, savvy deal-with-the-devil politico, or the old maverick McCain, who was loose and open with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show (as opposed to Obama, who is only slightly less stiff than Al Gore)? Joe Biden opens his mouth and rambles. Palin is at least photogenic, a passable double for Tina Fey. But once we open those worm cans, we’re into a new discussion—exactly how much do we demand that our President resemble a television celebrity?

What’s most notable to me about this election cycle is how we have managed to shoehorn so many unresolved cultural issues into one simple election. Maybe that’s good thing in that it will spur a lot of thought and debate about significant issues (well, debate anyway).

But on the downside, we have an opportunity to argue so many issues before the election, without once talking about which candidate’s policies and plans would best serve the nation’s future.

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