Issues, shmissues

By STEVEN STARK  |  May 21, 2008

Playing the game
Why can’t we have a “civilized” discussion of the issues? Part of it is because the voters are smarter than that. They know that politicians will say pretty much anything to get elected, and they also know that no one can foresee the issues a president will have to confront. So, they focus on what some critics might call “small issues” but others might define as the key issue of “character,” since in the end, that’s what really counts.

In part, it’s because politics in this country early on became a branch of popular culture — prized as much for its entertainment value as its social one. To a large extent, that tradition continues, if only because the key events in our political universe are brought to us through television, which is, after all, a medium of entertainment. It’s no coincidence that ever since they began in 1960, the presidential debates have resembled the quiz shows that were popular in that era (Twenty One), and remain so today in a slightly different form.

Related and equally important, Americans don’t take their politics all that seriously, which is why only about half of our fellow citizens even bother to vote, in sharp contrast with much of the rest of the world. Part of that is because many of our ancestors came here to escape forced political obligations, a tradition that still continues today.

But a larger part of it is also that most Americans assume, quite rightly, that, no matter how an election turns out, things will end up all right for the nation as a whole — as they almost always have.

Americans have usually enjoyed the freedom and good fortune not to have to care much about elections. Though Messrs. Fallows, Klein, Dionne, and Hertzberg may devoutly wish for this year to be different, you can rest assured it’s likely not to be.

even | this past week: even

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