Saturday, December 27, 2003

December 26, 2003
Some things are too serious to trivialize with the handicapping we are used to giving every public event from a performance of the National Anthem on Opening Day to, well, a presidential candidate’s level of happy warrior-ness on the stump.

I was thinking we lived in pretty serious times on Christmas Eve. We’re on a high terrorist alert nationwide, our guys are getting picked off in ones and twos in Iraq in an arguably optional war and our economy is trying to bounce back from three years of free fall while our public discourse is constrained by fear and a chorus of justifying every domestic and foreign venture by attributing each and every debatable proposal to the war on terror.

Despite this sobering situation, we seem to have time and energy to handicap political campaigns by turning the volume down on the set, setting aside what might be said, and letting the imagery of the candidate’s facial expression and body movement determine our views on his electability and ability to govern. This, at least, is what I heard yesterday on an NPR commentary by someone who has written a book suggesting that conservatives and liberals can all be happy if they’ll just take his suggestions.

Ordinarily, this viewing proposal would be laughable enough to dismiss, but we’ve heard enough suggestions that we handicap our candidates by their level of anger, their happiness quotient, their presidential-ness, and every other criteria excluding their policy proposals, that I thought we should throw in at least one more system. Maybe we could make our voting choices based at least partially on how we think their policies will affect the future of our country.

Paul Krugman has a laudable set of proposals for covering the upcoming election year in today’s New York Times. They focus on writing about issues, not attire, style, or histrionics. He writes that these serious proposals certainly will be ignored, but posits that we’d be better off if we remembered that this coming Presidential go-round will certainly determine whether we hand our body politic firmly over to the right wing that sets foreign and domestic priorities for this administration for another four years. This question must be answered while we fight a war against a cadre of religious fanatics who equate mass murder with prayerfulness and in conjunction with whether we throw every other foreign grudge and beef into the armed response mix while we supposedly focus like a laser beam on defeating these murdering fundamentalists.

I wonder whether we might do better to close our eyes and listen carefully.

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