The Fundamentals of Our Distractions are Strong
Can anyone remember that once upon a time the American people were all up in arms about a couple of turbulent wars they were waging in the Middle-East? Well some in-depth research recently revealed that those wars technically haven’t ended yet.
Can anyone remember that study that found that there were some flaws in the American health-care system? What about that journalist that opined about the U.S. government being in some sort of financial trouble?
Most Americans certainly seem like they can’t, because they’re too busy dealing with today’s more relevant problems. The American electorate is currently in the process of evaluating policy proposals like subsidizing the application of lipstick to pigs and adequately freaking out during The Great Depression, the sequel.
The level of distraction from reality that American voters secede to during elections is astounding, and yet it’s nothing new. Well-funded, planned, and executed campaigns have always known that narratives are more effective than arguments, and perceptions rule over facts.
However, an independent press and an empowered electorate are normally supposed to make an effort to find the truth and make decisions based on it. Television screens tuned to MSNBC, Fox News, and to a lesser extent CNN, paint a very different picture. The line between news and entertainment has blurred, and the show is more important than the boring “truth”.
The polls have swung wildly over the last few weeks, while the would-be presidents’ platforms and credentials have, for the most part, not changed. This is because swing voters and the media have become slaves of the campaigns’ narratives.
Playing to their strength, commander-in-chiefdom, the McCain campaign banged the drums when Russia invaded Georgia. The media played along, and the polls swung towards McCain. The invasion itself, however, was a complex and nuanced conflict, and in a much weaker state economically and politically than most people realize, Russia isn’t dumb enough to try imperialism again anytime soon.
Playing to his strength, oratory, Obama seemed almost savior-like in front of 80,000 in Denver, celebrating Martin Luther King, polishing his change brand, and equating McCain to Bush. MSNBC pundits drooled, and the polls swung back to his side. Although it could be argued that voters got a chance to know Obama and Joe Biden a bit better, their policies and qualifications didn’t change during convention.
Playing to their strength while countering an Obama strength, McCain’s campaign brought in Sarah Palin to provide the ultimate in distraction politics. Palin not only attracted remarkable attention by being a complete unknown and having a rather unorthodox set of qualifications, but she re-ignited the cultural war that completely dominated the 2004 presidential election. Putting aside the fact that picking a social conservative shows that McCain wants to win more than he wants to stand up to his party, the culture war is famous for wasting time debating issues that are rarely acted upon on a federal level, like abortion and gay marriage.
Palin-mania was a multi-dimensional distraction, which is why Obama’s campaign couldn’t seem to get anywhere for two weeks. The republicans threw in the old demonization of liberals and elites, beautifully executed when distorting Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” comment and by selecting the pompous Charlie Gibson as Palin’s first interviewer. Most Canadians saw him as smart and Palin as stupid, but the narrative that won the day in America was that he was a condescending liberal media elite beating up on the loveable “Vice-President Mom,” and that “Bush doctrine” could have meant one of several things.
Needless to say, the polls heavily swung back in the McCain-Palin direction.
Playing to their strength, Obama’s campaign has seized upon the current banking crisis, which has wiped Palin right off the front page. Obama’s campaign called it the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and they’ve castigated McCain for foolishly repeating his “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” line. Since Obama and most democrats are generally associated with more regulation and taxing the rich, policy that could help or hurt the situation but looks good to the average American, the polls swung back towards Obama.
Once again, the situation is being overblown in the context of the election. Chris Matthews of MSNBC, an obvious Obama supporter, called Bush’s lack of action “a Katrina moment,” likening the crisis to the disaster in New Orleans three years ago.
Although an Armageddon for the lending industry, the crisis is but a continuation in the collapse of a sector that gave loans too easily for years, and everyone’s been paying for it for over a year. Some economists are in fact pointing out that the fundamentals ARE strong, in that productivity, ingenuity, growth and employment are still at modestly reasonable levels. Interest rates are going up, but gas prices are going down, and the stock market rallied back up Thursday and Friday after crashing earlier in the week. It’s nowhere near business as usual on Wall Street, but there aren’t food rations yet, or zombie stockbrokers walking the streets of Manhattan, as Stephen Colbert put it.
Amidst the debate over holes in Palin’s foreign policy experience, Obama’s executive experience, and McCain’s economic experience, MSNBC pundit Tucker Carlson put it simply. “The American people aren’t looking for experience. They’re looking to be entertained,” he said.
If this were an issue-driven election, Obama would be winning easily by pushing for broad change from the policies of an unpopular President. The daily discussions would be about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the extra trillion dollars in bailouts currently being added to the already frightening nine trillion dollar U.S. government debt.
But even in Canada, in our relatively issue-driven election, we’re not hearing much about to our troops in Afghanistan. It’s old news. It’s boring. Talk about how only Prime Minister Stephen Harper will prevent Russia from invading Nunavut, and maybe we’ll switch the channel from CNN to CBC.
Alex Leduc is a freelance columnist and blogger, as well as a journalism student at Concordia University. All his political columns are available at www.alexleduc.com