Ignore noise, follow instincts as Nov. 6 nears

Posted: September 26, 2012

By Harold I. Gullan

OK, now we've seen and heard it all. Those over-wrought pep rallies for the already committed zealots still called political conventions are finally over. The deluge of media promotion to come isn't going to tell us anything new about any of the candidates. Accordingly, I invite you, my thoughtful fellow voters, to join me in a reflective retreat. No, we can't put our lives on hold. But we can, to the extent possible, try to tune out everything political (that is, partisan) for the next six weeks and make up our own minds in the relative calm of contemplation.

We've heard a lot recently about the 99 vs. 1 percent. However, if we can believe all those repetitive pollsters, it's the 5 percent that matters now: that uncommonly small number of still undecided voters. Personally, I think it's more like 2 percent. Most media mavens have it down to about 10 swing states; Karl Rove, all the way down to about 10 key counties. As Rich Ashburn used to say, "Hard to believe, Harry."

Before we depart to our enlightened enclaves for this campaign's diminishing duration, may I inflict just a few conclusions of my own?

This is not the most important election of our lifetimes. Every election is, because each affirms our continuing ability to hold elections, something people have been known to die for. Re-electing the Democratic administration will not lead to socialism. Nor will electing the Republicans lead to a theocracy.

There remains only that one stubborn issue in 2012: the economy and jobs. To deal with it, do we prefer the pleasant or the practical guy as our chief executive? Ideology aside, Romney-Ryan seem to have the best chance to end stalemate by bringing in a unified GOP House and Senate. However, granted four more years, Obama-Biden might achieve at least a modicum of compromise. Stalemate gets tiresome.

What we call debates on TV won't reveal anything we haven't heard before. Their format is, put simply, absurd. William Jennings Bryan couldn't clear his throat in 60 seconds. Moreover, every candidate is reminded most of all to avoid any "gaffes." It is a word almost exclusively used in a political context - just as "Godspeed" is reserved for commencements.

Memorable speeches don't necessarily win elections. In 2008, Sarah Palin's made her a celebrity, but her ticket lost. In 2004, Barack Obama's keynote address was so successful he's been repeating it ever since, but the Democrats lost that year. No one lights up a crowd more than Bill Clinton in full "Bubba" mode. He made more than 100 speeches in 2010 on behalf of regional candidates. Most of them lost. As for all that embarrassing public emoting, the most excessive clinch was between the Gores, who are no longer together.

No one can change human nature. In the world's longest op-ed piece, which we call Washington's Farewell Address, he warned us against "factions." Yet we already had political parties. Like it or not, he comes down to us as our first Federalist president. The two major parties that have evolved are no more separated in their intent, nor frustrated in their ability to get anything done, than was true in the past. Our founders kind of had that in mind. Our earliest newspapers were sponsored by political parties. Now we have the fun of comparing Fox News and MSNBC in much the same way - while dogged C-Span proves that boredom can be gavel-to-gavel. Despite all our electronic achievements having made intensive personal campaigning no longer necessary, the politics of exhaustion will never wane. So long as there's a diner anywhere, some candidate will insist on getting there first.

More power to them. One hopes the winners can manage to husband enough energy to govern. Nothing is more tiresome than belting out the same set speech endlessly over an electoral period that seems perpetual. Someday we'll have to do something about that.

Now, however, is the time for all we reasoned voters to set the noise aside and listen to our own instincts. Let's hope they lead each of us and this land we love to that beneficent resolution we all so devoutly desire.

See you on Nov. 6.

Harold I. Gullan is a Philadelphia historian and the author of "Toomey's Triumph."

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