Maybe we really do live in a country of fools. I’ve been arguing against it for years. Every time President Bush said something idiotic and polling showed that we didn’t mind, I gave America a pass and blamed the media for its abdication of its journalistic duties. When people began to equate education with elitism I did my best to pass it off as the baggage of choosing poor candidates. And when people continued to call Senator John McCain a “maverick” without any apparent idea of what that word actually means, I assumed that they just needed a little bit more information to hop onto the Reality Express.
It’s possible my naivety had gotten the better of me. I’m honestly, truly worried that we are just as stupid, lazy and unwilling to think as every dumb American joke has made us out to be, and it depresses the hell out of me. I know the media is a big part of it. I do. The past few decades have given us a journalistic corp battered by their parent corporations’ unquenchable desire for higher profit margins and corrupted by a public that rewards sensationalism over journalism. We have a news media that prints campaign press releases as headlines without so much as fact checking them first.
When the McCain campaign cited the fire martial of Fairfax county as a source for their supposedly record-breaking crowd of 23,000, every paper just printed it as fact first, and called the fire martial to discover they don’t record those statistics afterwards. Out of laziness or lack of resources the news media printed an unqualified marketing statistic that benefited one campaign because they couldn’t be bothered to make a phone call.
Can we only blame the media, though? Is that just a way of letting an uninformed electorate continue to evolve into moronic sloths without repudiation? When I hear people say that they think Senator Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, I have to wonder if they’re even living on the same planet as I am. When people say they want to vote for a candidate because they’re “just like me,” I have to fight back violent urges. The basis of a representative democracy is to elect leaders who will do a better job governing than the average person would. If you want a government run by people with average intelligence and poor knowledge of economic and foreign policy you’d be better served with an appointment by lottery than an election.
We live in a nation where, with utter seriousness, we ask our electorate which candidate seems like more fun at a cookout. Then we analyze those results on national television and criticize candidates for not portraying enough of a regular guy image. Sarah Palin not knowing a lick about the Bush Doctrine is more easily excused than one of our presidential nominees’ choice of vacation spots. If you don’t remember that one, it was when Senator Obama went to Hawaii and analysts referred to it as too “foreign” and “exotic” for normal people to relate to. We’ve now begun calling our own states foreign if it means muddying the political waters.
We’re in a war. Multiple major financial institutions are collapsing. Average, working-age family income has dropped $2,000 over the past 8 years. Yet we wallow in our own narcissistic desire to see someone as uninformed and unqualified as ourselves become president. We hold our candidates only to the standard of what we ourselves know, not how much more the leader of the richest country on the planet should grasp. We allow our media to print unchallenged hyperbole, like when Senator McCain had the gall to claim that Sarah Palin knows more about energy than anyone else in the country. We feel our hearts swell at any mention of “small town values” and look suspiciously at urban “elitists” when 79% of the United States population is urban.
I’m forced to ask myself this: If this nation truly cannot see the mountains of bullshit surrounding the Republican candidates at this point, have we crossed the point of no return? Is Mike Judge’s satire Idiocracy really where we’re headed? This is not a nuanced election. We are literally being told that a man who supported almost every major policy of the sitting president can also be an agent of change and a free thinker because he said it in a speech at the Republican National Convention. And we’re buying it. We can be shown a picture of a woman wearing a sweatshirt supporting the infamous “bridge to nowhere” and yet still believe that she was always against it because she tells us so. We allow the myth that the candidate who supports the troops most is the one who voted against an increase in their benefits to live on, unchallenged.
I have to believe, at least for the next 50 days, that this isn’t true. I need to give the people of this nation one last chance to prove that they still care about something enough to see through the obvious falsehoods they are sold every day. I need to hold our hope that, if nothing else, we can grasp the seemingly simple fact that a long-time member of the existing establishment who says they are likely to change that establishment is either out of their mind or an unrepentant liar.
I won’t lie. It’s getting harder every day.