Watching and Waiting for the Denouement
The 2008 Democratic Primary as Spectacle:
A Political Addiction Takes Over Our Lives
By Edward Shanahan
Do you know where your spouse is at 5 p.m.? Mine is watching Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” on cable channel MSNBC seeking the latest skinny on the heart-pounding Clinton-Obama political struggle.
For the last several months, it has become ritual, no, its an addiction, and it does not take much encouragement for me to slip in and out of the room, upstairs or down, to check in nightly with the rotating chorus of pundits, radio talk gabbers, political strategists and know-it-all columnists.
We have not been this fixated on presidential politics since John F. Kennedy energized us at ages 24 in 1960, lifting our spirits and raising our expectations.
It forged in us a serious commitment to the expressed principles of the Democratic Party and the positive, even idealistic, role that government could have in the lives of Americans.
With the assassination death of JFK and the collapse of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives under the weight of the disastrous Vietnam War, and the urban riots, optimism gave way to discouragement. Except for the single four-year term of Jimmy Carter, there has been little reason to be excited by the state of the Democratic Party, which had been all but dismantled in the wake of GOP residents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the administrations of Bush One and Bush Two.
This Obama-Clinton obsession of ours is played out in our careful reading of on-the-ground reporting in the New York Times, visits to Obama’s website, and various media websites, including the Washington Post “Trail” postings.
But, when we hunger for more, we turn to the relentless 24 -hour cable world of news coverage that whipsaws us with a rich diet of political news, analysis, information, misrepresentation, repetition, agitation, negative commentary, baseless spin, some hope and as much despair, all in the course of a single news cycle.
An 18-month-long nominating process is no way to choose a president and cable news is no way to cover it, especially absent hard, factual information, such as actual election returns.
Yet we are hooked.
After Matthews packs it in, Ann might join me as I take a peek at David Gregory’s “Race for the White House,” in the 6 to 7 p.m. slot. We are rooting for local favorite, the brilliant, articulate journalist Rachel Maddow, to get the air time she merits on that show and other MSNBC programs to speculate on the latest twists and turns in the Hillary/Barack soap opera. Rachel speaks and we nod in agreement.
We could view a repeat of “Hardball” between 7 and 8, but we squeeze in some supper and do the dishes. Then maybe we’ll join Keith Olberman between 8 and 9 to see if he offers his routinely colorful and well-crafted insights into the tumultuous Democratic presidential nominating contest.
Olberman and Maddow
By this time we’ve heard about enough, much of it just what the chattering class said in different ways yesterday and will rephrase again tomorrow night. There is no news — just opinion — and hype. Still, it might be good before 10 when it’s time to turn in with a book, to see if Dan Abrams has anything to offer on the political front. And so it goes.
If the Democratic nominating campaign has been exhausting for the candidates, what about those of us who have to follow it as intently as we do. We are made groggy by the hypothetical possibilities, the polling results, the risks and errors assigned to the candidates.
This is politics as entertainment, as a source of emotional gratification, both pro and con; politics as reality television.
And the new world of the Internet also allows us to act on our emotions by going to the computer and sending off some money to our candidate.
We don’t care for or trust Hillary, not to mention Bill Clinton, pulling the strings behind the curtain. Anything we hear that might boost Barack’s standing elevates us as well. We are partisan; we are not seeking balanced opinions on these programs.
For the last 20 years it has been Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, and now we are offered another Clinton. It’s time to move on, way on, beyond Bushes and Clintons.
I recall four years ago this summer while vacationing in Ogunquit, hearing for the first time, Barack Obama address the party’s convention which nominated John Kerry.
While the Kerry candidacy ultimately self-destructed, the most vivid moment for us was Obama’s amazing speech, which seemed to summon distant memories of the young John Kennedy. Ann and I turned to each other as the speech was winding down and agreed that we might be listening to the next Democratic president. We just didn’t realize how soon that might happen, or that young people today would respond to Obama as we did 50 years ago.
Barack is looking forward, like JFK did; Hillary is looking backwards and its not pretty back there.
What is even more rewarding, and unique for us, is that our candidate, Obama, after months of extreme highs, and several weeks of unremitting lows, is (almost certainly) on top.
For those of us discouraged with national politics, it does not get better than this, until, of course, the fall election campaign begins and we have to go through the whole gut-wrenching process one more time. We can’t wait.
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