I don’t follow the national political scene as closely as some, so I may have missed earlier pieces, but I encountered today for the first time this election season an article asking the question, Is this the dirtiest election in history?
C’mon, we ask this every four years.
It usually comes about mid-August, the slowest “news” month of the year. It’s an instance of the national media navel-gazing, over-analyzing its own speech, its “reporting,” and the dynamics of petty-sniping-passing-as-public-discourse they’ve had a hand in creating, and asking, Are we seriously this inane?
Sadly, we are.
But I would also want to add that public discourse and political debate have grown in pettiness, been hollowed out, and made increasingly shallow for some time now. And I’m not talking decades.
I was a political science major in college and we tended to romanticize the Lincoln-Douglas debates as the last example of sustained and substantive political discussion.
That may be true, but the history of electoral politics (stretching back to ancient Rome and, before that, Greece) reveals that with few exceptions, it has ever been thus.
My favorite instance of inane public speech (and we do not lack for options) is the sniping from the outgoing President Clinton’s camp at President-elect Bush in early 2000.
Responding to Mr. Bush’s comments about the declining economy in the last few months of Mr. Clinton’s second term, a Clinton spokesperson accused Mr. Bush of “talking down the economy.”
This was instantly hilarious in so many ways. Assuming the existence of such a thing as “the economy,” its complexity is mind-numbing. But the comment drew attention to this entity’s personality and its potential to be deflated through simple observation.
An internet search reveals that “talking down the economy” is now a stock phrase, joining the ranks of “game-changer,” “Washington outsider,” and the like. But just to say that if you’re surprised at all by the unapologetic vapidity of our electoral process and its attendant discourse of determined stupidity, you just haven’t been paying attention.