Presidential Season

Rex has a few thoughts ahead of next week's U.S. presidential election. He calls the politics harsh and sterile.

Rex has a few thoughts ahead of next week's U.S. presidential election. He calls the politics harsh and sterile.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode.


This wonderful invocation - "From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Lord protect us" - used  to be associated with the horrors and monsters, the zombies and witches and vampires of Halloween. 

For me lately, however, it seems like an appropriate prayer to ward off the overflow of American politics in the presidential season. Surely – even considering it is for the most powerful office on earth – The Presidential Election has become an infinitely-consuming monster that devours, time, money, and most of all breeds and feeds upon the most intense partisanship.

On time: There is never a stop to presidential politics - it is campaigning 24 hours a day – no scandal too big to cover up, no disaster too big to exploit; it’s all media manipulation, positioning, talking points, polls, pundits and partisans. It’s been full-blown, all engines blasting for more than two years now.

There is no "interlude" for actual "governance" any more.  Politics is angry, harsh and sterile.  Democrats demonized and insulted George Bush and never accepted him as legitimate:  the Republicans blamed everything but stomach flu on Bill Clinton.  Nothing’s changed – it’s only gotten worse.

On money: – is it really possible that a political contest now expends two billion dollars?  Yes it is, it does, and maybe even more. It is an insult to democracy to spend two billion dollars on a campaign.  It is an insult to thought!

On partisanship: Politics is about everything but politics now: it is a tag – party loyalty exists somewhere on a sorry continuum between fanship and fanaticism.  People read, watch, and talk only with "their side."

If you support Obama – you’re for all that is progressive, open-minded and modern. You’re a cosmopolitan savant.  If you support Romney you’re a patriot, helping to save American from blundering into socialism and bankruptcy. These are not points to be argued – they are declarations of identity – they are battle cries.  Political parties in the US resemble huge clans insisting on utter fealty.

Because the system is calcified – there is only a sprinkling of people who are not in the corral of either party. In other words a splinter of the electorate is the pivot on which all politics must turn.  Presidential campaigns are – inverted pyramids – not the most democratic design.

America’s proper name is the United States – common will and shared purpose are its greatest strengths.  Feverish, hyper-financed, and fixed-bayonet partisanship drains most of the meaning from that ‘United’ – it divides. 

And did not a great man, a great American too, once warn about a "house divided."

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.