The Silly Season Goes Into Overdrive
No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
- H.L. Mencken
Frontline recently ran a documentary that amounted to interwoven bios of the respective characters of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It made two points very clear. One, it takes an obsessive personal determination to seek the office of President of the United States of America. And, two, this being America in 2012, the capacity to delude, evade and outright lie through one’s teeth is critical to the process.
Unlike parliamentary systems like in Britain, the US campaign involves years of campaigning that involves filling up media and cable news space with pizzazz and conflict that has nothing to do with the real problems of America. Paradoxically, citizens get tired of it all as they clamor to be entertained by it. Avoiding substance becomes a real art, as the various media emphasize personal drama and the political equivalent of sports statistics. Meanwhile, the real problems fester and get worse, making American politics a lot like the Romney-Ryan health plan: Wait until the problem has reached the emergency level, then call 9/11. In American politics, this usually means a military or police option. Who says bi-partisanship is dead?
The two-hour Frontline documentary broke this mold a bit and actually analyzed what made the two candidates tick and, most important, what it was about them and their lives they most wanted to hide from the American people.
Obama was raised a virtual international orphan who developed into a strong-willed loner determined to fit in and to lead by facilitating a “get along” attitude among the diverse elements of American culture. He wants to avoid any discussion of this because, while his mother was an American citizen and he was born in Hawaii, his absent father was Kenyan and the American culture he has spent his life trying to fit into has deep and powerful strains of racism and a fear of anything foreign. One begins to appreciate how much Obama has hidden of his roots when Frontline points out he is the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a Kill List.
Romney, on the other hand, was born into a powerful political family that was part of a religious group -- the Morman church -- that suffered and transcended serious trials. This inclined them to circle their wagons and struggle mightily to provide for their families in a religious version of The Godfather saga. Reportedly, the Romney family made, lost and re-made fortunes a number of times. But like Obama, Romney can’t discuss his family history because his grandfather and other Morman relatives were polygamists.
So both men avoid mention of the core historic realities that made them what they are. This fits nicely with the nature of the current political campaign we're living through, which relies to an unprecedented degree on distraction and the bald-faced lie. The real challenge of our presidential candidates is to keep a straight face as they tell the biggest and best whopper that will delude the greatest number of voting Americans.