Memory has a way of playing tricks on the mind, but my recollection is that each of the seven presidential elections since I reached adulthood (I turned 18 the week after Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984) has been advertised — by the parties, by the candidates, by the media — as “the most important election of our lifetimes.”
Here comes the eighth. Same schtick, even if the Jerry Springer atmospherics have been turned up a little. The world will end if Candidate X is elected. Americans will starve in the streets if Candidate Y isn’t elected. You know what I’m talking about.
Of course, each presidential election IS incredibly important to the parties, the candidates, and the media. Elections are their bread and butter. But are they really that consequential to the rest of us? On close examination, the only plausible answer is “no.”
Politicians of both major political parties trot out big plans and contrast those big plans with the big plans of the other candidates. Yes, those plans differ between the parties and from candidate to candidate, but only in degree, not kind. They all boil down to minor variations on the theme of “let ME spend your money and run your lives.”
Look, I get it. I’m a politics junkie. I love the horse race, too. Like most Americans, I let myself get wrapped up in the dueling narratives. Probably more so — I’ve been an activist at one level or another in every presidential election since 1992. It’s easy to forget that there’s more to life than politics. But there is.
Here’s a secret the politicians don’t want you to know: You don’t need them nearly as much as they need you. In fact, you need them like you need another hole in your head, while they need you desperately.
Without them, your life goes on. Without you, their careers screech to a halt.
Their conflicting plans are a constant low-level social contaminant. Sure, those plans vary by single-digit parts per million in content and composition, but that variation isn’t anything to obsess over.
We’d all be better off ignoring them until they close up their campaign offices, go home and get real jobs in the productive sector.
Okay, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. But let’s at least commit to giving this new crop of presidential candidates the attention and respect actually due them instead of the attention and respect they demand. Turn their fake “debates” into a drinking game. Picture the various candidates in their underwear. Mentally preface each of their speeches with “if I was on drugs, I might say …”
But whatever you do, don’t take them seriously.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).