For all the media coverage the 2008 presidential election has already generated, alarmingly small amounts have been devoted to legitimate political issues. Instead, the reporting of the race has so far centered on money, sex, and innuendo.
Just eight years ago, then-Governor George W. Bush led all Republicans with $7.6 million in first quarter fundraising. Al Gore led the Democrats with $8.7 million.
This year, Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) have each reported raising more than $20 million in the first quarter alone. Some political analysts called it “the first primary.” Alas, the importance of how much money one can grab has been equated with an actual election itself.
People seem to be writing off candidates who haven’t raised tens of millions of dollars, or aren’t generating rock-star appeal. But the election is nineteen months away.
A poll conducted in April of 1991 showed Bill Clinton tied for 11th place among likely Democratic contenders.
In 1987, Mike Dukakis was showing three percent support from respondents. In 1975, Jimmy Carter was tied for twelfth among possible Democratic candidates, barely polling at one percent. What these three men have in common is that a year after those surveys were conducted, each captured the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
Yet as the media decides who gets attention this year, a candidate’s experience, intelligence, and character seem negligible compared to wealth and appearance.
In 1960, there was real concern that John F. Kennedy could not be nominated for the presidency because he might be viewed as inexperienced, despite his fourteen years in national elective office. So far, it seems Barack Obama – two years removed from the Illinois state legislature – could avoid such questions about preparedness.
During the first week of January this year, Obama was barraged with questions at a Capitol Hill press conference about the now-famous pictures of the senator vacationing shirtless in South Beach.
The fleshy photos of the svelte 45 year-old were generating buzz outside the pages of People Magazine and suddenly became the hottest topic in Washington.
That week, the 3,000th American soldier died in Iraq. After exhaustive grilling on how the senator’s appearance in a bathing suit would affect his candidacy, a reporter finally shouted a question about the war from the back of the briefing room. Five minutes later, the press conference was over.
Many have seen the YouTube remake of Apple’s 1984 commercial which depicts Hillary Clinton as the scary “big brother” figure determined to brainwash America. The video is very clever, and judging by the millions of views it has gotten so far, it’s quite effective. It’s also devoid of any legitimate issues or discourse which should be impacting this election. And that could be said of the whole campaign so far.
Our country is in the middle of a terrible war; millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the past six years; education systems are failing the children who will one day be expected to support our country; yet people seem willing to let advantages in an election of monumental importance be determined by some nerd with a computer in his studio apartment.
We need to distinguish the American Presidency from American Idol. Let’s be smart enough to rise above the silliness which has dominated this premature campaign so far, and let the real issues and consequences come to the forefront.