Democracy, said H. L. Mencken, is the theory that the people should get what they want and get it good and hard. This year’s American presidential election promises to make Mencken look like a Polyanna. Already polls show that Americans dislike both major candidates, and the mud has hardly yet been formed, let alone flung.
President Obama has an approval rating of less than fifty percent, which seems worrying until you consider that Congress can’t muster ten percent approval (although people in a particular district quite like their incumbent – it appears that they just loathe the other four hundred and thirty four) Mitt Romney, the challenger, is only slightly behind the president, and seems to be on the rise now that all of his rivals have ceased to condemn him and actually found a way to endorse him, usually by saying that he is better than Obama (faint praise, that).
‘BREAD AND CIRCUS’
If this were a sensible fight everyone would lose. But it is not in any way sensible. It is, instead, bread and circus. It is show business for ugly people.
Voters like to have candidates that they can relate to. Men (ok, sometimes, but rarely, women) they feel are like themselves in important way: people with a “common touch.” Not too common, but kinda sorta approachable. They want someone who believes the same things that they do. Big things, like America is the best nation ever, with a special purpose given to it by the Lord himself. A person who goes to church, preferably their church, and is proud of it enough to wear it on his sleeve.
This year they have a candidate who is Christian but often thought by the opposition to be a stealth-Muslim (from Kenya, no less), and another who is a Mormon, which must really be some kind of wacky cult (and whose family did in fact go to Mexico a couple of generations ago in order to practice polygamy). People would like someone who might know how much a bag of groceries costs, but confront a rich candidate and a richer one.
Polygamous Mitt Romney has multiple houses, and his wife can hardly decide which of her Cadillacs to drive each day. The Obamas make millions as well. They are overeducated too, and speak in complete sentences. Romney stumbles a bit, but still talks good. He spent a couple of formative years in France (and that can’t be good – he can even speak the language), but Obama ate dog meat in Indonesia!! Hard to relate to any of that.
It is a PR nightmare for each campaign, two effete intellectual snobs punching each other to win the hearts and minds, or at least the votes, of the common man. Neither one fits in at the local pub, neither one would be comfy at your backyard barbeque telling redneck jokes and neither could be trusted with your dog.
THE US ELECTIONS: DETERMINING THE VOTE AND DEFYING RATIONALITY
What’s a citizen to do?
One option that will be selected by millions (nearly half the electorate) is to tune this whole circus out and not vote (some will be helped by recent legislation aimed at preventing them from
voting). Those who are determined to defy rationality and vote have mostly made up their minds already – they like one or the other of the candidates and will vote that way because it is low cost. And this very large group is split roughly evenly between the two candidates.
Those who will decide the election are the ones in the middle who just can’t figure out the key differences between the candidates and the parties and will make up their minds very near the end on grounds that cannot yet be anticipated.
A circus needs some tension, a little frisson (pardon my French) to keep things interesting, like the chance the trapeze artist will miss that swing. In the end the voters are quite likely to make a big mistake and regret it like they usually do. But the Republic will persevere, almost certainly.