‘Are We There Yet?’ Or Why Presidential Campaigns Don’t Work

We started off in feisty spirits, excited and ready for a good old American road trip. Headed out singing road songs together, enjoying the scenery; stopped for ice cream a couple of times along the way (primaries), had lunch at Arby’s (debate?), argued about what music to play on the iPod (another debate), ran off some steam at a nifty rest stop along the way (another debate); back in the car with a little less enthusiasm, which led to more tantrumming about two thirds of the way in (yet another debate). Some slapping and shoving was unavoidable, another stop was promised (last frikkin’ debate), by now all the snacks were gone, everyone’s cranky and tired, there is absolutely NOTHING left to talk about and still…a weary voice from the back queries, “Are we there yet?”

Nope. Not yet. Still weeks away. Sit back, be quiet and draw. Or read. Or speak quietly to each other. We’ll get there when we get there and we’re not… there…. yet.

Americans have short attention spans these days, that’s a given. Their preferred communication is abbreviated text-bites, their favorite newspapers have been usurped by Internet rags that keep it short and sweet; the most popular delivery system for breaking news is the 140-character tweet, and long form letters (remember those??) are most closely replicated by emails containing more than one paragraph. Even the more personal stuff — marriages and career jobs — tend to come in smaller –  more cyclical – doses, so WHAT MADE ANYONE THINK A YEAR-LONG PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN WAS A GOOD IDEA?

This has already been the most expensive, and certainly longest, campaign in the history of America and yet, like that interminable road trip, the end – that blessed, hoped for end – seems no where in sight. Yes, Mitt Romney wasn’t given the official nod until June but we’ve been knee-deep in this since late last year. A year is too long for anything that demands attention and it’s certainly too long for a presidential campaign in 21st century America.

There was a recent blog about the campaign in the Huffington Post written by Trey Ellis that opened with, “The malaise is palpable on both sides.” He went on to describe the current doldrums:

The cure to what ails the electorate is not more policy but policy across an array of urgent middle-class issues all in the service of creating and enforcing an irresistibly infectious and uplifting narrative. Facts don’t excite voters, stories do. If one could teach us to dream again, we’ll follow them anywhere.

I beg to differ, Mr. Ellis. It ain’t stories we need. Uplifting and infectious narrative are nice in a movie but, frankly, we don’t need to be taught to dream again. We know how to dream. We’re just bored silly with this interminable, ridiculous, nasty, and repetitive campaign!

It’s been said that the demands of the 24/7 news cycle cause cable and online media to run out of “real news” quickly enough that, to fill space, they rely on hours of “infotainment” and fluff disguised as news. How that translates during a presidential campaign is not hard to guess. Here are just a few of the stories being discussed in recent days:

  1. Who Honey Boo Boo, Gene Simmons or Lindsay Lohan would vote for.
  2. Whether or not Ann Romney flipped off the President at the second debate.
  3. What Obama did today/yesterday/a minute ago that was heinous/wonderful.
  4. Which version of Romney’s views will be touted by which family member on what TV show.
  5. Lawrence O’Donnell giving a bad (really bad) audition for a Michael Scorsese film.
  6. Polls of polls polling why pollsters and their polls are right/wrong.
  7. Tagg Romney wanting to punch the President like a little boy defending his Dad.
  8. Who wore the pink dress better, Michelle or Ann?
  9. Is Candy Crowley really a terrorist?
  10. Which family-values GOP member is having an illicit affair this week.
  11. Eight hundred articles of frustration about the Undecideds, including mine (If You Don’t Know Me By Now…).

You get the point.

I’m convinced we could have this election today (two months ago) and the results would be, within a statistical margin of error, identical to what they’ll be in November. Having a campaign this long and laborious does nothing to further the cause; it’s simply time-filler. If I’m to be really cynical, I might even suggest it’s a ratings ploy, an opportunity to give pundits and cable networks longer to spout incendiary, buzz-worthy sound bites to drive ratings. More fodder for newspapers, magazines and online sites to publish and promote. Extra time for advertisers to sell. More billable hours for lobbyists to bill. It’s a veritable industry, campaigning and, after a point, has little to do with actually educating people but, hey, maybe it’ll rebound the economy and surprise us all!

But despite those short attention spans I mentioned earlier, there are millions of smart, focused people who don’t need to be beaten over the head with months of repetitive messaging. Who aren’t impressed with or swayed by the compulsive pot-watching of pollsters. Who are annoyed with the picayune gossip, transparent story spinning, and outright propaganda. Campaign fatigue translates into boredom, which results in the decision to “switch it all off until I get to the ballot box,” as one friend put it; hopefully they will.

Let’s find way to shorten these campaigns in the future so when we finally are “here,” we aren’t so weary of the ride we’ve stopped caring about the arrival.


Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for details and links to her other work, visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com