Saturday, February 2, 2008

The campaign playground

If I were a Venusian newly landed on Earth and were trying to makes sense of the U.S. presidential primaries, I might think it's like a child's game where the winner is the one whose hand ends up on top. In this case, given the focus on insults, personal attacks, or whatever you want to call them, the winner is the candidate who comes up with the most convincing story. At least, that's how our Venusian might see it, because most of what she sees are attacks.

I don't doubt that elections of this kind have always been like this; I remember seeing some pretty good barbs from the 1800s. They remind me of children on the playground: "Your mother wears Army boots!" "Yeah, well, your father's a poofta!" The content of a campaign speech may be more adult, but the effort itself seems just as juvenile.

I've never quite understood the purpose of these traded barbs in politics. But, just as each playground combatant has supporters behind him who affirms his assertions (even without understanding them or knowing them to be true), candidates have their followers who seem to see each attack as a telling blow for their side, whether it is substantiated or not.

The rest of us probably wish they would just shut up.

I don't understand why a real leader doesn't arise who ignores the fighting and the petty sniping, who recognizes it for what it is, a lack of character, confidence, and leadership, a reversion to the ways of childhood. The differences between the candidates of each party are not that great, that is, McCain and Romney, and Clinton and Obama, are pretty similar. No one stands out. Undoubtedly, each is loyal to his or her party, and their plans for shaping the respective platforms are not radically different. I suspect most voters feel the same way and that most vote for the candidate they like best, not the one whose insults are most telling.

"Change" seems to be the buzzword for recent campaigns, so I suggest a real change that any and every candidate could implement right now. Ignore the other candidates. It doesn't matter what they did or didn't do; if their shortcomings are truly serious, I would hope that there are still a few honest journalists left to root them out and enlighten us. Ignore their insults. Stand alone. Focus on what you have done and can do and will do, and what you stand for. Differentiate yourself by rising above the fray. Show character. Take that risk.


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