By Tim Hayes
It’s almost over, gang. In a little more than a week, the incessant pummeling of wild boasts and finger-pointing, the fearsome voiceovers and sunny testimonials, will cease emanating from our televisions and radios.
Then the recounts and lawsuits can begin.
If it looks and sounds like this year’s election campaigns have been dirtier, nastier, more outrageous and vicious than ever, I’ve got news for you – it’s always been this way. The clamor and clash of 2012 is not necessarily any worse than any other election year, and for one undeniably good reason.
It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
In their 2002 book, “Buck Up, Suck Up…and Come Back When You Foul Up,” Bill Clinton’s political strategists James Carville and Paul Begala correctly state, “American politics at the dawn of the twenty-first century is a brutal, bloody, winner-take-all game. As it should be…There are no stakes higher than determining who runs the only superpower on God’s earth. Politics matters.”
I’ve always enjoyed watching the thrust-and-parry of political rhetoric, how a candidate conducts himself or herself on the stump and when confronted with a face-to-face challenge of a platform plank. To my mind, politics can be an absolutely thrilling clash of ideas, ideals, ideologies, and most of all personalities. At the same time, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not sure I would have the intestinal fortitude to survive as a writer in the eye of such a political hurricane. Who knows.
They say playing an 18-hole round of golf will illustrate and illuminate a person’s real qualities, both positive and negative. For my money, the ongoing testing of a candidate inside a grueling political campaign has that beat by a country mile.
John F. Kennedy, Jr. once said, “Politics is the only game for grown-ups.” Carville and Begala describe why, saying, “In business, a 49 percent market share means you’re rich. In campaigns it means you’re through. In our business there is only absolute victory and abject defeat…that kind of zero-sum game, with those kinds of stakes, sharpens your approach.”
Who needs to be more aggressive during a particular debate? Who needs to be more statesmanlike? Why do such things matter at a particular moment in time? It’s fascinating stuff. I think colleges should combine their psychology and political science departments during presidential election years. That’s where the real action is.
From now until the election is finally decided, we’re all in for an even more ramped-up level of political speech. The commercials will become more grandiose and accusatory. The barnstorming will reach the limits of human endurance for the candidates. Watch and wait for “October surprises,” those planned bombshells to either decimate the opposition or elevate the candidate in the hopes of closing the deal once and for all.
A final thought from the Clinton War Room’s brain trust, as the big day approaches: “The best thing about American politics is that, on Election Day, you matter more than all the special-interest groups and all the pundits and all the corporations. Because with your vote you decide the fate and future of the greatest nation in human history.”
It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s bloody hell. It’s an American election. Make sure your vote counts on Nov. 6.
Copyright 2012 Tim Hayes Consulting