The Fourth Year

05/03/2012

This is that fourth year I always dread. I dread the third year, too. That’s when the rhetoric and debates ramp up, leaving many of us sick of political talk even before elections are more than a year away. Having a long commute, I have become pretty savvy at switching off the news, in favor of other radio material, the very millisecond I hear keywords resembling “super PAC,” “Romney,” “campaign,” and sometimes simply “Obama.” Now, as a slogan, “forward” is being added to that list. I just don’t care because, right now, is doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered for a long time.

There is a lot of coverage out there that’s hard to ignore. There are debates and town hall meetings and talk around the water cooler. For many people across the nation, there is at least some chance to participate in the dialog and the nomination process. But when it really comes down to it, individual participation is a guided process. So much of it is about psychology. The party leaders know it, and would probably rather you not think about it.

Although “The Adjustment Bureau” is fictional (as far as we know! Hah!), parts of that film have stuck with me for over a year… most notably this scene: David Norris, played by Matt Damon, is a politician who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat. When that aspiration falls short, Norris is fed up and lets loose during his concession speech.

David Norris:

…we had a rule in my neighborhood, when you got in a fight, it wasn’t whether or not you got knocked down. It’s what you do when you get back up.

And I came here to tell you tonight that I will get back up!

Um…that’s bullshit! We…we didn’t have that saying in my neighborhood. It’s just one of those phrases that uh…that has some attraction with a focus group and so we kept using it. That’s not true. You know, 1998, I did a cover for GQ. The title was ‘Youngest Congressmen Ever’ and, since then, every story I tried to explain how I got here so fast. And…and the word that people kept uh…using was “authentic” and…

…here’s the problem, this isn’t even my tie. This tie was selected for me by a group of specialists, in Tenafly, New Jersey, who chose it over fifty-six other ties we tested. In fact, our data suggests that I have to stick to either a tie that is red or a tie that is blue. A yellow tie made it look as if I was taking my situation lightly and I may in fact pull my pants down at any moment.

A silver tie meant that I’d forgotten my roots. My shoes, you know, shiny shoes we associate with a high priced lawyers and bankers. If you want to get a working mans vote you need to scuff up your shoes a little bit, but you can’t scuff ’em so much that you alienate the lawyers and the bankers, cause you need them to pay for the specialist back in Tenafly.

It’s interesting to consider our current President’s attire choices. The necktie blog “Neck of State” shows that, during his first 100 days in office, President Obama wore a red or blue tie seven out of eight times. That’s nearly 90% of the time. Maybe he just really likes those colors, or maybe someone told him something like “Wearing at least one of the two primary colors on the American flag comes across as being more patriotic.”

There is that obsession with lapels that politicians have, too… American flag lapels, specifically. Reagan started the trend. George W. wore ’em. Dick Cheney wore ’em, and Obama wore ’em until he “noticed a lot of people wearing a lapel pin and not acting very patriotic.” Maybe someone also told him about the Cornell study that suggests greater exposure to the American flag persuades some people to shift toward “more conservative Republican attitudes and voting behavior.”

Another changing area of modern politics is the celebrity appeal. Modern Presidents are fit and handsome. Obama is “cool” and was accused of being more of a “rock star” than a politician during his campaign, going so far as flying to Germany to give a speech for, well, who really knows…just a demonstration of his popularity with another culture that can’t vote for him, I guess. Los Angeles and San Diego are other good spots for that. (I don’t mean that as a jab, but it’s true that some Democrats are motivated to extend social programs to people who are in this country illegally, and Los Angeles is a known safe haven for illegal immigrants.)

Never before has an American President been so willing to optimize the media in so many ways. And never before has a President been seen paling around with celebrities so much. The gap is bridging between celebrity and politician as time marches on. Of course, the POTUS is a pretty well-defined position. Such a person doesn’t get to endorse products and get to be famous for being famous. Rather, the line is blurring in such a way that U.S. Presidents are in the top 1% of income earners, go on on late-night talk shows and send birthday tributes to celebrities and, out of necessity, hobnob at fundraisers with their richest and most famous best buddies.

These days, the notion of political celebrity isn’t limited to the examples just mentioned. Take, for example, the show put on for political conventions. They are made up of prominent figures reading scripted statements from a teleprompter, with theatrics including pyrotechnics, fancy lighting normally reserved for big concerts, confetti, giant balloons, and elaborate stage sets that resemble things like Roman temples. It’s a manufactured environment, and what a person said holds less weight than if they were in a darkened theater with a spotlight shining down on him or her.

In a world where so many technologies and products are vying for one’s attention, we are reduced to getting our information from soundbites. Context is everything, and context we rarely get. Thirty-minute speeches are reduced to three seconds. All that ends up mattering is a catchphrase and the inevitability of moving in a direction that really has no inherent meaning. It just exists and can’t be changed. It’s called “forward.”

__________________________________________________________________
Further reading / cited material:

University of Minnesota, Humphrey School of Public Affairs:
“Romney Speaks 8+ Minutes More than Closest Rival at SC Debate”
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2012/01/romney_speaks_8_minutes_more_t.php

Los Angeles Times:
“Tale of the tape: Romney has had most face time in GOP debates”

Cornell Chronicle: “Study: Setting eyes on Old Glory moves voters toward GOP”
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July11/FlagGOP.html

Neck of State: “Grading Obama’s First 100 Days”
http://www.neckofstate.com/

Washington Post: “Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/05/AR2007100501027.html

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2 Responses to “The Fourth Year”

  1. Democrat said

    The World Political field has deteriorated over the past few decades due to lack of compromise. We need to rise up for our children and take back our country from Big Pharma, Big Tobbacco, Big Insurance and really just big companies. It is time for our elections to stop being stolen.

  2. Yes, lack of compromise is part of the problem… yet it also becomes a problem when one side wins the perpetual tug-of-war in both the House and Senate and compromise is no longer even considered. Unpopular legislation gets pushed through, and the constituents push back, like in the last mid-term election.

    We do need to rise up, but I’m not sure how. The top politicians make for great, charismatic actors who can appeal to people, of course. Thus, they raise a great deal of money and give it to the media for exposure. So, unfortunately, I can’t see how it’s possible in the near future for “we the people” to get this country under control without the Republicans or Democrats getting in the way.

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