Boredom With Balloons, or: The Campaign That Won't End

Posted: May 14, 2008 12:01 AM
Boredom With Balloons, or: The Campaign That Won't End

You can feel the tedium by now. It hangs over the country like a wool blanket in August. Even if it's masked by the kind of pointless commotion signifying nothing that only a hopeless political buff would stay interested in. Normal people tuned out long ago in search of something, anything, more intellectually challenging. Like gin rummy.

But this campaign just won't quit. It just goes on and on, like the drone of Fox and CNN. The endless speeches and speculation bring to mind HEAD-ON, the headache remedy whose pounding commercials are sure to give you what they claim to cure.

The oh-so-dramatic coverage on television has much the same effect when applied directly to the forehead. Boring but excruciating. All the more so when dressed up with fancy electoral maps and basso profundo, capital-A Analysis. Anything to fill up all that dead air.

As one primary comes after another, election nights begin to sound like replays. The pundits have given the nomination to Barack Obama, but Hillary Clinton insists on waiting for the delegates to decide. How technical. And so the grand march to anticlimax continues. The band plays on, if at a less exciting tempo, as what's left of the crowd drifts away in search of a real issue.

Dance marathons, aka walkathons, were all the strange rage in the '20s, but they might mercifully end in weeks. This one's gone on for months. It started last year and shows every sign of continuing forever, or seeming to. The last two contenders on the floor - in accordance with the current politically correct, diversity-mandated mode, one each black and white, male and female - cling to each other like boxers in a clinch, unable to break free. The dance to exhaustion must continue. It's the democratic, and now the Democratic, way.

At last report, the two Great Thinkers in the Democratic race have been reduced to debating whether the federal gasoline tax should be lifted for the summer. That's the Big Issue between them now. This is what the republic of Jefferson and Adams, Washington and Hamilton, has come to.

One of the candidates, Barack Obama, is still capable of expressing occasional dissatisfaction with the level of the campaign before succumbing to it. The other seems to be back in her natural, war-room habitat. Hillary Clinton almost glows as she repeats every threadbare talking point with strange new enthusiasm. Again and again she repeats that she's the only candidate who can win in the fall - while losing in the spring.

Mrs. Clinton does seem to have solved or at least minimized her biggest problem: What do you do with hubby? Bill Clinton has been relegated to the back of the platform on election nights, where he looks on silently but beneficently, or tries to. During the rest of the campaign, he's assigned to the boonies, where he can still draw a crowd without drawing too much media attention to the gaffes that have made him a regular embarrassment to the missus. There is a certain pathos to the whole spectacle, like an aging matinee star reduced to playing a bit role.

But the show must go on, however ploddingly. You can almost hear the great god Demos, aka The People, drumming its fingers on the table as the Democrats' demolition derby proceeds. To where? Why, to West Virginia this week, and to Kentucky and Oregon the week after that, and then - ta da! - to crucial, decisive, climatic Puerto Rico! come June 1, followed by all-important Montana! and South Dakota! two days after that. In short, to inconclusion.

In the old undemocratic days, which begin to seem an almost Periclean Age in nostalgic hindsight, the party bosses - they had names like Daley and Farley and Pendergast and Crump - would convene in some, yes, smoke-filled room and pick a nominee. Sometimes they'd hit on a winner (McKinley, Harding) and sometimes not (James M. Cox, John W. Davis) but matters would be settled. And everybody would be happy and united, or pretend to be, as they surely will do again at the end of this long trail a-winding.

But who will settle things this year? The all-wise super-delegates, of course, this era's bosses. But first the campaign must conclude, or rather peter out, while the more civic-minded among us, that is, the most masochistic, follow it to the dull end. Duty demands.

Someone condemned to write about this never-ending Campaign of '07-'08, someone like me, begins to think of it as a Waiting for an Asteroid time. I take the term from the incomparable Florence King, essayist and reviewer extraordinaire, whose specialty is penning great reviews of awful books. Assigned some indigestible tome full of postmodern prose that fully deserved deconstruction, if not complete demolition, preferably by dynamite, Miss King would find herself utterly disheartened. But then she'd spot one of those occasional news items about a Giant Asteroid bearing down on Earth. The report would fill her with hope. All was lost. Maybe she wouldn't have to finish reading the damned book after all.

I'm starting to feel the same way about this fun-filled campaign. Not long ago I caught myself searching the night sky. Alas, not a Giant Asteroid in sight.

Obama-Clinton '08 now threatens to go on as long as Bush-Gore in 2000. The country is reaching the point where people are less interested in who wins than in getting the thing over with. So politics can get serious again.

It's not as if there aren't serious issues out there. There's the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and on terror in general, and whether to rely on the free market in this uncertain economy or try to tax-and-spend our way out of tough times. But all we get is identity politics in place of the real kind. White women, working stiffs, assemble over there. Black folks, the college educated (or rather the college-trained in these technocratic times), step over here. Who cares what the two remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination have to say? It's what they look like that counts.

Strength. This thing's got to end some time. Doesn't it?