July 8, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     This is a great country. It has a huge talent pool 
of gifted people with original minds. I'm awed by it 
every time I browse at Borders Book Store: so much to 
choose from!

     So why do our presidential options come down to a 
pair of men like George W. Bush and John Kerry? Is our 
political system designed to filter out better, more 
interesting choices? It would appear so.

     Thanks to UHF and cable TV, we no longer have to 
choose among three networks. Borders offers an infinite 
selection of books. Even at McDonald's, we have other 
options besides hamburgers and cheeseburgers -- fish and 
chicken sandwiches, salads, and so on.

     But in politics, it's the same old menu: a 
Republican hack or a Democratic hack. And we are told 
that our two-party system is the glory of democracy. 
Other countries should be so blessed. Multiparty 
democracies, where people may actually get to vote for 
the candidates they prefer, are deemed "chaotic."

     Both major parties aim at blandness in selecting 
their presidential candidates. A mildly explosive Howard 
Dean must yield to an "electable" John Kerry; even Ronald 
Reagan was once thought "too extreme." A third-party 
candidate who threatens to upset the balance between the 
Big Two is considered a "spoiler." Oh, all right, Ralph 
Nader has the right to run for president, but it's just a 
technical legal right that he shouldn't actually 
exercise. He's being "irresponsible."

     So in the two-party system, the quest is not for the 
guy you really want, but for the guy you think most of 
the electorate will settle for, even if they don't really 
want him either. It's like my pet definition of public 
opinion: what everyone thinks everyone else thinks.

     In a system dedicated to the proposition that all 
"responsible" candidates must be colorless and 
unprincipled, it doesn't take much to get the pundits 
excited. Kerry himself did it last winter by emerging as 
the most "electable," if least inspiring, Democrat. Now 
Kerry has caused another media frenzy by picking John 
Edwards as his running mate.

     Only in a system where ennui is the norm could a 
political nobody like Edwards cause pulses to race. What 
is his record? What does he stand for? No matter. The 
pollsters are already asking the public for reactions to 
his selection.

     The pundit chorus sees Edwards as balancing the 
Kerry ticket. Since his brief voting record is nearly as 
liberal as Kerry's, it's hard to see how. Because he's a 
Southerner? He's barely known outside North Carolina, 
where he's still a newcomer anyway; he won't be able to 
deliver the Republican South, where George W. Bush is 
popular, to the Democrats' column.

     True, he's not from Massachusetts, and nobody would 
call him a Brahmin; as he keeps repeating, his father was 
a humble millworker, a fact that is supposed to give him 
a populist pedigree. He's younger and better-looking than 
Kerry, who vaguely reminds you of Boris Karloff. And they 
say he's a good campaigner, rousing crowds with the same 
tear-jerking skills he perfected in the courtroom as a 
trial lawyer.

     It's to Kerry's credit that he has realized he needs 
a running mate who is less boring than he is. If you come 
across as an old reptile, maybe it's not a bad idea to 
balance the ticket with a young mammal. That American 
politics has become the ugly sister of the entertainment 
industry is now a commonplace. Kerry is doing his best 
just to keep the audience awake.

     Of course he won't go to the desperate extremity of 
offering a message. Each party wants you to think the 
other party is very bad, while minimizing any substantive 
difference with it. If Kerry can be said to have any 
campaign theme at all, it's that he would administer the 
Bush agenda more competently than Bush does.

     At least Bush has a theme: We're winning the war on 
terrorism, your taxes are lower, and the economy is fine. 
You may not believe it, but you know what it is. Kerry 
sounds like a sore-headed nitpicker whining about "tax 
cuts for the rich" and "corporate interests."

     As long as Dick Cheney's pacemaker holds out, we're 
in for a very dull campaign.


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