Monday, April 4, 2011

Obama is FIRST!!!

President Obama officially began his campaign for re-election this morning.  In case you're keeping count, it's nineteen months until the 2012 election.  If you were to conceive a child today, you would go through your entire pregnancy, give birth, and celebrate your child's first birthday before the next Presidential inauguration.

Notice I said "you," not "I."  The Mayan prophecy of the end of the world is more likely to come to fruition in 2012 than I am.  And it would be less earth-shattering, to boot.

She's pregnant? Shit, it is the end of the world!
But I digress.  So the Prez has thrown his hat in the ring, asking America to keep him for a second term little more than halfway through his first.  A cynic might say that a man more confident of re-election would not declare so early.  A realist might point out that potential Republican rivals like Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty have been putting out feelers and issuing coy will-I-or-won't-I statements for several months now, making an early declaration necessary just to avoid appearing late to the party.  A 24-hour news network might sigh with relief that there's finally something to talk about besides Charlie Sheen and Twitter.

Anderson Cooper would happily continue to talk about himself.
In the interest of full disclosure, I voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 after considerable soul-searching.  In past elections I've voted for Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.  I've never cast a Presidential vote for a Republican candidate.  That doesn't mean I've always been happy about the votes I've cast - choosing between John Kerry and George W. Bush in 2004 truly was like deciding whether I wanted to spend a summer day scooping dog poop or scraping up roadkill.  So anyone who wants to pigeonhole me politically will do best to remember that I'm half-crazy and willfully independent and proceed accordingly.

In any event, this is not a post about politics, except to say that I really, really hate politics.  I find it so bizarre and distasteful that we as a nation elect a leader based on advertising.  This isn't a low-fat spread we're choosing here; if we pick I Can't Believe It's a Crappy President because of a catchy slogan, we're out more than $1.69 when it doesn't turn out to be to our liking.  The leader of the free world is non-returnable.  If you don't like that Pepsi, you can buy a Coke at the next vending machine.  But we have to wait four years to send a bad-tasting President back where he came from.  And we have to keep drinking the entire time.

You'd think, then, that we'd be a little more careful about how we choose.  Maybe we'd read the labels instead of believing what TV commercials cram down our throats.  Maybe we wouldn't fall for celebrity pitchmen or misleading statistics that are meant to influence rather than inform.  Hell, maybe we'd insist on having an impartial source for facts that presented all sides fairly and kept its opinions to itself.  The Food and Drug Administration would never state an official preference for Skippy over Jif, yet we increasingly gravitate to "news" outlets that cater to a specific political bent.  And they don't even use the ironic quotation marks the way I just did there.

Presidential candidates who declare earlier and earlier - or launch "exploratory committees" or state "I'm so not running for President, y'all" like an off-duty lounge singer who doesn't want to get on stage oh well if you insist maybe just one number - actually help drain the campaign of nutritional substance.  The media feel obliged to give them camera time, because they're potential candidates so they must be important, right?  But you can't fill a 24-hour news cycle with hints and demurrals; not because they're not news but because they're too damn short.  The candidates know they can't say anything of substance this far in advance of the election, so the newscasters pump up their sound bites with rebuttals and commentaries and stories about the stories, until the news becomes so meta that you expect to see a couple of robots in the corner of the TV screen.

"I don't get him, Tom."
"Nobody does.  He's the wind, baby."
And then the candidates see themselves on TV and keep saying more and more about nothing to keep themselves there.  And the news channels keep tweaking their broadcasts to be more interesting.  As the election gets closer, everyone looks at what Iron Man 2 made at the box office vs. Winter's Bone and decides that loud and violent beats sophisticated and substantive and makes sure the campaign includes lots of over-the-top acting and implausible plotlines.  And when November 2012 rolls around, we all realize that we can make everybody shut up by voting.  In a re-election year, about 40% of us actually bother to turn out to vote for whichever candidate we're less sick of.  Two years later, we start the entire four-year cycle over again.

This is democracy in action.

I'm not going to get excited about the 2012 campaign yet.  President Obama is only halfway through the contract we gave him.  I'll let him keep working awhile before I entertain an extension or a replacement.  I'll wait until someone actually decides to run against him before considering anyone who runs against him.  In the meantime, Obama and the Non-Candidates (which would be a great band name) at least deserve props for keeping so many people employed in the critical fields of marketing, spinning, fundraising, and arguing.  Building a website is kind of like restoring our manufacturing base, right?  See, America is on the right track already.

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