Campaign and Discomfort
(dedicated to Dorothy Parker, who named her poodle Cliche)
America, are you having difficulty with electoral dysfunction? Have you been feeling listless and generally lacking renewable energy? I know, achieving and maintaining an election can be hard, what with rigid party platforms, stiff competition, and performance anxiety on the part of the candidates. What’s an upstanding citizen to do when we keep ending up with a limp Congress? Well, voting would be a good idea. Half this country has been so dumbed down that they can only process sound-bites and bumper-sticker slogans. Unfortunately that’s the half that votes. One of the problems is the language. Midterms doesn’t have that resonation with voters; it’s considered the other election, between the Presidentials. Turnout is always low, and yet all 435 House seats and a third of Senate seats (33) are up for grabs. It should be called the Congressional election, which sounds better anyway, and more closely fits the situation.
Right now, we’re in the midst of an unceasing crapstorm of political ads that will culminate in some kind of climax on Nov. 4th. In the spirit of public service, I’ve compiled this handy little guide to all the clichés you can expect to see over the next couple weeks. Candidates know if they want to have any chance of winning, they have to tell us idiots what we want to hear. So they all say the same thing. (Fill in name here) is a hard-working, no nonsense, down-to-earth guy/gal, ready to make the tough choices, willing to reach across the aisle and work with the opposition, eager to do whatever it takes to: create jobs, end government waste, fraud, and abuse, get the Homeland, er, I mean, America, back on the right track, with opportunity for all, towards a better future, bringing a new vision, an innovative approach, commitment, and a positive, fresh perspective. And they all promise to fight for you against powerful, entrenched special interests. Whew, I need to catch my breath. Did I forget anything? Oh, right — change, change, change! (I thought change comes from within. Oh, well). Promise change, make that hope and change. Look how well it worked out for the last guy. It’s not like you have to mean it, or anything. The use of “freedom” and “liberty” is only permitted for conservative candidates, as they own those words now.
Candidates will shy away from coming off as too religious. The population of agnostics and atheists keeps growing, and those votes might be important. It’s okay to throw in a few dog whistles, though. A mailer can say so-and-so, his wife and children attend St. Wurlitzer church. A small cross lapel pin is acceptable, next to the obligatory American flag pin. The phrase “family values” will get the message across, too.
Depending on the politics, we need more accountability from government/business, with more/fewer regulations. There are too many/not enough gun laws. We need to cut taxes/raise them on the wealthy. We have to get money out of/into politics. There are too many/not enough immigrants coming across the border. One thing everyone can agree on — support the troops! God help you if you don’t support the troops; we’re always at war, so there are always troops to support. Be sure to mention boots on the ground, whether you think we need boots on the ground or don’t need boots on the ground, because we can’t hear that one too much these days; it’s so evocative. Blood and treasure is another good throwaway phrase, too — it has a poetic touch — even if it’s our blood and the fossil fool industry’s treasure.
Candidates will have to say something about climate change, too, it’s in vogue now. “Working towards a more sustainable future” is a good one. It seems to promise things will get better without telling you anything at all. Throw in the word “green” every now and then. If you happen to be one of that vanishing species of Neolithic climate deniers, you should refrain from statements like “all the science isn’t in” unless you know you’re safely in the lead. Then you can bloviate away, like Senator James “Mountain” Inhofe (R-OK), who insists that climate change is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the masses.
Let’s go to the visuals, since the great majority of ads will be on TV or the web. In family shots, the candidate and all family members will smile broadly, see how happy they are? No Gloomy Gus or Debbie Downer is allowed. Somewhere in the background will be seen graphics of the flag waving. This is mandatory. It’s important to know this person loves the Homeland, er, I mean America. It won’t take long for all these ads to seem indistinguishable from each other, because they are. It’s all complete horse hockey, a pack of lies. We all know it, but pretend to play along. What choice do we have?
I remember an old science fiction story from the 1960s; I think it was a “Twilight Zone.” For a couple of hours, the Earth passed through a mysterious cloud in space, and during that time it was impossible for anyone to lie. I think it would be great if we went through one of those clouds any day now before the election. Can you imagine it? “Screw the poor! I’m in this strictly for the money.” “I’m willing to reach across the aisle to those degenerate cannibals.” “If you elect me, I won’t do a goddamned thing for you, how do you like that?” It would have a devastating impact on every aspect of our lives, though. We’d finally be telling the boss exactly what you think of him/her, but in a bad job market. It would ruin a lot of relationships: “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” “It depends on how many other people you have in there, my love.” Yeah, that would be excellent.
No analysis of the campaign would be complete without a mention of attack ads, since they comprise 80-90% of all the ads you’ll see. Forget that they’re full of misquotes, half-truths, distortions, and outright lies. What you should know is that attack ads are not about getting you to vote for their candidate. They are to make you give up on the one who’s being attacked, to say “Oh, screw it, they’re all bums,” and stay home. That’s why you always see many more of them from Republicans. They know from history that the lower the voter turnout, the better their chances of winning. From what I can tell, that’s the only history they do know.
Here are some issues you won’t hear from the candidates or see on cable news (where all that ad money goes). You won’t hear about the vast and growing wealth inequality in this country, or how to stop the oil, gas, and coal companies before they make the Earth uninhabitable, or a national security apparatus that’s run amok. Climate change? In late September the People’s Climate March had 2700 rallies worldwide, with around 400,000 in New York City. The Sunday morning “Meet the Republicans!” shows hardly acknowledged it, except supposedly liberal MSNBC on an early morning show called “Up.” Look at some of MSNBC’s sponsors — Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP, and America’s Natural Gas. Do you really think they’re going to do some in depth analysis of the myriad dangers of fracking?
I’ve given you a free guide to this organic word salad; the hackneyed, trite, banal, stale, timeworn, inane, and corny jargon you’ll continue to hear for the next two weeks. Because with a very few exceptions, that’s all you’re going to hear. This is what passes for political discourse these days. I’m imagining that in graveyards from New England to Virginia, the remains of our Founding Fathers are rolling over in the musty earth, eye sockets wide, their open jaws frozen in silent screams.