THE MADNESS METHOD
Every four years it happens. As much as I hope, and this year I had reason to, that the dialogue in the presidential campaign will focus on issues and resolutions, the usual descent into the absurd finally happens. This time around, with Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama in the final field, one could have surmised that there may be a different flavor to the rhetoric. Instead, it seems worse than ever, although it always seems that way, much like a bee sting or a donkey bite, with an onslaught of television ads and back and forth between the candidates, that makes even the worst years pale in comparison.
Things weren't too bad until Obama's trip to Europe. There, in grandiose style and with much fanfare, he spoke to crowds of tens of thousands. He implied already-won presidential status by choosing venues and locations that reeked of American history with regards to past presidents and notable speeches. This must have sent the McCain camp reeling, because they shot back with a television ad that featured glimpses of Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton, aligning Obama's celebrity with theirs, and simultaneously insinuating similar brain power and vapidity.
I spoke against this ad at a McCain staff strategy meeting in Manchester, NH last week. My feeling is that the negative ads don't work, that they hurt Romney in New Hampshire during the primary when he unleashed a deluge of negative ads aimed at McCain. It doesn't fly in New Hampshire. But the rest of the country must love it, because Obama's lead in reputable national polls slipped by as much as 9 points in just days. I have said all along that it is amazing that any Republican candidate is even on the map in the polls given the approval ratings of the Bush administration and the now-vacationing Congress. Congress is on an "Avoid-The-Oil-Vote" cruise captained by the gaunt Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi. With approval ratings so low, McCain now finds himself virtually tied with Obama with less than ninety days left until the election.
So the upshot is, that in spite of my objections, the negative stuff works. But why? Average Americans are burdened with record-high fuel costs that are increasing the cost of everything else we touch as well. Food prices are through the roof, and I have begun "Goldfish Rationing" with my 10 and 11 year-old boys. There is a myriad of problems facing the country. Decaying infrastructure, the education system, the demise of the family structure, global terrorism, national debt that transcends description. We speak routinely in terms of "billions of dollars" forgetting just how much a billion is. Here's a teaser: One billion seconds ago it was 1959. Roll that around on your tongue.
So why is it that with so much at stake, we seem not just satisfied, but pleased, when the rhetoric between candidates decays to the point of grade-school playground back and forth's. Tire gauges, and "old-man" jokes...it seems so beneath both of the men. Maybe it's just one more reason to feel disenfranchised from it all. Maybe the nastiness, more than anything, makes us feel bonded with the candidates. "Hey! He really is just like me. A mean, nasty, prick!" I don't know, and there won't be time to figure it out this time around. My last glimmer of hope now hangs on the first of what will likely be only two or three, serious one-on-one debates between the two. Now THAT I'm looking forward to.