Kerry: In Search
is a great country. It has a huge talent
pool of gifted people with original minds. Im
awed by it every time I browse at Borders Book Store: so much to choose
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 McDonalds, we have other options
besides hamburgers and cheeseburgers fish and chicken
sandwiches, salads, and so on.
But in politics, its 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
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 its just a technical legal right that he
shouldnt actually exercise. Hes being
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 dont really want him
either. Its 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 doesnt 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.
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 Kerrys, its hard to see how. Because hes a
Southerner? Hes barely known outside North Carolina, where
hes still a newcomer anyway; he wont be able to deliver the
Republican South, where George W. Bush is popular, to the
True, hes 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. Hes younger and better-looking than
Kerry, who vaguely reminds you of Boris Karloff. And they say hes a
good campaigner, rousing crowds with the same tear-jerking skills he
perfected in the courtroom as a trial lawyer.
Its to Kerrys
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 its 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 wont 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,
its that he would administer the Bush agenda more competently
than Bush does.
At least Bush has a theme:
Were 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 Cheneys
pacemaker holds out, were in for a very dull campaign.