Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rules, Money, Guns, and Issues

Each alternate November, the American public--most of which does not care about this sort of thing on a regular basis--is bombarded with information about a pack of candidates' records, characters, families, religions, and alcoholic beverages of choice. Every other autumn, candidates try to impress with their ability to debate, and look confident while giving a speech, and knowing some civics and history and a few foreign capital cities. Get enough name recognition together, get a few media people saying nice things about you, deflect the mean things the other media people are saying about you, and make your opponents seem vaguely worse, somehow, than you, and...congratulations! You now go off to your state's or country's capital city and represent your constituency with a mandate from the masses.

Once you're actually there, are you competing with other election winners on the things that got you elected? Is it like a tournament?

No, it's like government. And government is really about three things and three things only: rules, money, and guns. That's why government exists. There is nothing else for it to do but make up rules, hand out money, and shoot off the guns.

So how does a nice set of teeth, a fashionable but not ostentatious wardrobe, and experience smiling at pancake breakfasts qualify anyone to legislate, appropriate, and militarily gesticulate?

Is it just me, or is there a disconnect between the job of government and the way we give these jobs out?

Is it just that I'm paying too much attention to this particular question during the aerial bombardment of pointless information surrounding this November's cycle? Why do I even know what Jane Swift thinks about comments that Barack Obama made about Sarah Palin that weren't even about Sarah Palin (or...maybe they were...a little...it's hard to say for sure)? Why do I know the names of Biden's kids? Obama's pastor? The brand of prescription drug Cindy McCain went into rehab for?

How on earth do the people who come out with the most votes via this ridiculous process get to go out and try to make up the rules, dole out the money, and aim the ordnance?

I want to get mad at the participants, but there's no point in blaming the winners. It's not like they're making up the rules. Oh wait--they ARE, aren't they? That seems like kind of a deviation from the ideal design, there.

No, still, though while the technical details may differ from year to year, the basic process hasn't changed since the mid nineteenth century. And every time we go through it, there are winners, and there are losers, and the procedural details are surveyed and dissected and discussed like each election was a game from the '86 World Series. The pundits and commentators huff and puff and the talk radio callers and bloggers urge us to blow the house down, but we never do. No, every time around we beg to be influenced by contrived outrage and gaffes and gotcha questions and non-denial denials.

And then we complain when our system doesn't work the way we want it to. Why? Because 35% of the country marches to one specific set of foolhardy platitudes, 35% trudges along to a set of attractively packaged yet fallacious principles, and the best part of the rest simply pay no attention. Basically most of us have made up our minds long before any of the candidates were selected, or we vote in a district where it's a foregone conclusion who's going to win anyway.

As for the few TRUE difference makers, how many of them are grandmas who vote on looks? One-issue voters whose only criteria for giving their vote is abortion or gun control? Racists or chauvinists who wouldn't ever vote for a black guy or a woman?

Do issues matter?

Have they ever mattered?