Do You Hear That Sound? That's The Knell of Apathy
I never thought I would say this. Indeed, if you had shown me the words I'm about to write through a time machine when I was idly chatting in July, I'd have laughed in your face. But here's the truth: I am thoroughly, thoroughly burnt out on politics.
Since I was old enough to vote, I've never lived through an election in the United States. In 1992, I had just started my first year of university in England, and 1996 found me returning to Oxford from Osaka. In both cases I voted by absentee ballot. I didn't even vote in 2000: I'd moved so many times I couldn't figure out what state I could vote in. (Before anyone blames me for Bush v. Gore, the only options were Texas and Michigan: I don't think my confusion as to my home state threw the election to Rhenquist and Co.) But I have never had to live through the barrage of news, ads, and ridiculous commentary without the comforting filter of British insouciance. 
My god, what I wasn't missing. Look, I'm a Bush voter, and I can't really imagine what could happen at this point to make me move from the Republican Party, so I suppose the election's been done for me for several months. But I'd vote for Kerry if the election could be held tomorrow, just to get the damn thing over with. It's not just that I've already decided. It's that the trivia and the overheated rhetoric is getting to me.
Let's just count the non-sensical things that have absorbed the debate in the last few months. Remember the Swift Boat Vets? With due respect, I don't care if Kerry bribed his senior officers to give him purple hearts as part of his payoff for covering up a heroin ring. The statute of limitations of my attention--and my ability to believe anything can be "proven"--has run. Now otherwise sensible people are asking if Kerry is barred from the presidency by the 14th Amendment.. (Note: link is to Volokh disagreeing with the thesis.)
Ditto for anything to do with Bush skipping out on National Guard service, whether or not the evidence comes from phantasmal and phantasmagoric IBM Selectric Composers. It would be like judging whether a firm should hire me by asking what I was doing back in 1975. Christmas 1975 isn't exactly "seared into my memory," but I'm pretty sure it involved a great deal of chronic irresponsibility (as well as soiled diapers).
But even if those things are fading, the relentless trivia of this election just won't end. Here's Paul Krugman talking, yet again, about that draft that's just around the corner. You know. That old rumor introduced by two threatening bills about which Professor Leiter once said: "the fact that these bills were introduced by Democrats will be hugely advantageous as the Bush Administration has to confront the deteriorating military situation in Iraq and Afghanistan..." Yeah, well, the Bush Administration, or rather, his proxy Republicans in Congress, pushed those bills to the floor a while ago. They passed it by a resounding 402 to 2 vote. Oh hell, I'm sorry, that's what it failed by. Rangel didn't even vote for it, which literally made this an issue not even its father could love.
Then we have the litany of requests for apologies. Cheney curses out a Senator on the floor. Kerry makes hay out of Cheney's lesbian daughter.  Now Teresa Heinz-Kerry lets a new one rip from the ketchup-bottle.
You know, I'd give my vote, my pledge of eternal alligiance, perhaps my very soul by contract to the candidate who said, "I'm going to make you this promise at the outset of my campaign. I'm not going to say anything bad about my opponent, who is a fine man. And if one of my supporters does, I'll send away his money. If that supporter happens to be sitting next to me, I promise I'll spit in his face." Now that doesn't count rational statements of policy: both candidates have been accused of saying that if the other is elected, we're more likely to suffer a terrorist attack, and I hope they both believe it. If they don't, they don't think their anti-terrorism policy is substantively better than the other guy's. But stop with the mud.
And finally, I'm just sick of the strident tone. Without any particular focus on any particular blogger, let's look at some of what I've been reading, hearing, and seeing recently:
- The Guardian's "write a voter in Ohio" campaign and the commentary about it. Yeah, it's a real shock when you spam a bundle of random addresses that you get hatemail back. And note that while the Guardian has published some of the replies they've gotten, they've not posted the letters sent. Sure, they said to be polite, but anyone want to bet on 100% compliance? How many randoms got Gruaniad-style rants?
- Again, from Professor Heller: I Honestly Think This Is the Scariest Quote I've Ever Read. An unattributed, unnamed source quoted by a hack with an axe to grind? Christ, I've read scarier in reviews of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Come to think of it, the fact that movie got the green-light is scarier.
- Or from Carey over at Gondolin: "If George Will is excited, we should be scared." (Also describing the normally-sober Will as "drooling.")
- Any number of my associates declaring that, "If Bush wins, I may have to leave the country."
Folks, this is ridiculous. Look, there is nothing, and I mean nothing in what's listed above, what's been mentioned in the debates, or what random pundits might be "drooling" over that should inspire fear. Sixty years ago, the architect of modern liberalism was telling us how our greatest fear should be fear itself. In 2004, everywhere I turn someone's telling me that I should be petrified of George W. Bush.
Now I know why some people find Wes Craven scary.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this rant, I did spend most of the Clinton years out of the country. But let me say emphatically: the fear of a draft-dodger winning in 1992 did not drive me away from these shores. Nor does the possibility of a Kerry victory influence my firm decisions, tipping the balance towards London or Tokyo and away from New York. I don't think there's anyone who could get elected in the United States that would make me ashamed of my nation, unless the Democrats nominate Michael Moore in 2008 in a mammoth fit of pique. I've never told anyone that I was anything but American when I was overseas, and don't figure I'll start now.
I can understand that some people think Bush's policies are wrong. I can even go so far as to see how someone could dislike him, distrust him, disagree with him, or even diss him. But this continual litany of fear, this wearing of sackcloth for the sins of Bush II, this near-despair by the Kerryites... was it this miserable at the end of the elections I missed?
: Incidentally, the BBC coverage of Election Night is always, always better than the American version, because they don't take it entirely seriously. First of all, once it's past midnight the coverage is handled by second-string announcers and American commentators who couldn't get onto FOX/MSNBC/CNNHL/WTBS/WKRP. Seeing folks who aren't used to being "crack dream team punditry" handle the tips and turns of the 2000 election was a riot in and of itself. But even better is the BBC's resident Swingometer-in-Chief, Peter Snow, who assaults the viewer with a variety of computer-generated graphics as "visual aids." The 2000 election, for instance, displayed the "Race for the White House," in which two little medallions of the candidates races towards a cartoon White House, propelled by little icons representing electoral votes. Snow also brought out his classic "swingometer," which informed viewers exactly how the House of Representatives would be constituted, how the Senate race was going, and who would be Prime Minister if the Americans ran their election like the good ol' Brits. That this last was completely irrelevant to anything was cheerfully ignored.
: And can we have a moment to look at this one? Various people have justified this by making it an issue of Cheney's "hypocrisy," because he supports a president who objects to homosexual marriage when his own daughter is a homosexual. Don't we have to make two assumptions before we get from Kerry's statement to an accusation of hypocrisy? First we have to suppose that Mary Cheney supports homosexual marriage, an assumption I've yet to see proven. There's significant question as to Dick Cheney's opinion. But even after that, we have to assume that both Mary and Dick Cheney feel so strongly about the issue of homosexual marriage that it overrides all other considerations. What if they don't even consider that the prima inter pares among issues this year? Why is it that if one is homosexual, this has to be the issue you care about?
As charges go, this one just doesn't stick. There's nothing hypocritical about supporting a president who disagrees with you on a policy or two.