Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Primary Concerns

Sort of in preparation for the Iowa Presidential Primary on Thursday (January 3rd), I’ve watched three political films in the past few days: the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 90s’ under-appreciated Primary Colors (both favorites that I’ve seen many times) and The Good Shepherd, last year’s acclaimed fictional bio-pic about the CIA (which I found leaden and confusing, but never mind). I passed up another favorite, Wag the Dog, because it was on commercial television and snippets of film interrupted by innumerable quick-cut commercials make me feel like I’m having an epileptic seizure.

The point is, both political pop culture and actual politics are filled with unforgettable examples of idealism, cynicism, cronyism, shameless manipulation of the voting public and genuine efforts to serve the public good, efforts usually thwarted by the steamroller muscle of high-stakes politics. As always, the media treat political campaigns like horse races, as if there were nothing crucial at stake and they have no obligation to prompt serious discourse about critical social issues.

And more than half the public tunes out the entire process the way I manage to avoid absolutely everything about sports. Indeed, it is this high-octane blend of public ignorance and indifference that has helped degrade the political process for years and, most recently, gave us two terms of George Dubya that have literally run this country into the ground. In some ways, I can’t blame my fellow citizens for opting out of this charade, especially since the 2008 campaign is shaping up as interminable, stiff, phony and just plain stupid. Unfortunately, it matters very much who becomes our next president and how we can try to repair the incalculable damage of the Bush years.

Much will be made of who wins and who loses in Iowa, even if there are no decisive winners and even though Iowa will be a dim memory come June. There will be many more primaries leading up to the pointless, staged, inordinately expensive conventions this summer, and by November, those of us who have not been driven into mental institutions by the campaign will do our best to force all the red and blue shit to hit the fan (as much as the electoral college will allow).

It pisses me off that there’s been no opportunity to reflect on the significance, and triumph, of the country’s first genuine, viable, woman and black candidates. It appalls me that despite the 122,397 “debates” that have already been held, there has been no in depth, meaningful discussion of real issues. It severely troubles me that all of the candidates on both sides of the political fence are competing for each other’s existing constituencies instead of courting the millions of potential voters who are completely disengaged from the political process. It infuriates me that the major TV networks, who literally had their broadcast spectrums bestowed on them as gifts decades ago, and who all now have multiple channels under their digitized, high-definition belts, are not required by law to run political ads pro bono (which would hugely reduce the costs of campaigning, since most of the candidates’ war chests are spent on media).

It outrages me that the Democrats don’t have the balls to reclaim their traditional political niche as the progressive, liberal champion of the middle- and working-class and the poor, and, that the Republicans are equally ball-less in not turning their backs on the religious right and reclaiming their traditional niche as fiscal conservatives and social libertarians.

Most of all, I am bitterly disappointed that the post-O.J. Simpson sensationalist broadcast and print media have failed to demonstrate the courage and insight to recognize that they can no longer cover politics as if it were a cross between Survivor, American Idol and Jerry Springer. We can no longer afford bullshit, bread-and-circuses, jingo journalism.

Here in the first decade of the 21st century, our reality has been profoundly altered by 9/11 and terrorism; the radical evolution and expansion of television; and the birth and growth of the Internet, which has created unprecedented opportunities for social communication and interactive involvement in the processes that govern our lives. We are contending with unimagined climate change, unspeakable national debt, a dangerous merging of church and state, a yawning gap between the rich and everyone else, crises in health care, education and employment that are reshaping the national profile, the threat of recession and increased inflation, and the inability to relax with a cigarette in a coffee shop or bar. These are perilous times.

I hope Hillary wins in Iowa. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

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