The Absurdity Of Campaign ’08

Presidential elections, for all their consequence, can get laughably ridiculous. This year we’ve been subjected to conversations about pigs with lipstick, arugula, Paris Hilton, and field-dressing moose. Standard fare, these days, but at least these trivialities don’t stay in the news cycle for too long.

The bigger issues like sexism and which candidates have more experience don’t really go away, however. In fact, with Sarah Palin now in the mix and the campaigns’ attacks going into overdrive, the back-and-forth about sexism and experience within the media and between the campaigns have revealed two deep hypocrisies both campaigns and parties want to ignore.

For John McCain and the Republicans, it’s sexism. Up until August 28 of this year, the GOP had no problem tearing Senator Hillary Clinton down in every way. Her politics, her appearance, her personal life, her gender-nothing was sacred. Whenever Clinton or her surrogates cried sexism, they were told to stop whining. After all, if a woman candidate couldn’t handle criticism from the press, she wouldn’t be able to handle being president.

Then, on August 29, everything changed. John McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Suddenly, Republicans were feminists. A bit on “The Daily Show” spliced footage of conservative commentators ripping into Hillary from months before and then defending Palin on the same grounds later. It was ridiculous. I sat there watching, aghast at the blatant hypocrisy and hugely selective memory of Karl Rove and Sean Hannity and Dick Morris.

Part of the calculation of the Palin pick was to win over some women Clinton supporters who are still bitter about losing to Obama. But my guess is that those same supporters also have not forgotten how poorly Hillary was treated by the same people who now support McCain. The pick may eventually backfire, or it may not; but it still won’t make McCain and the Republicans champions of women’s rights. At least in the eyes of Hillary supporters.

The second Grand Hypocrisy of ’08 involves Palin too, but instead of sexism, it is about ‘change vs. experience.’ In terms of narratives, it was pretty much established that ‘Obama is to change as McCain is to experience.’ Each candidate bludgeoned voters with their respective catchphrases at every debate and every stump speech.

But Obama was the first to stray from his own manufactured narrative by choosing Senator Biden as his running mate. It was a logical and safe choice for him to have a respected expert on foreign policy on the ticket in order to reassure voters of his readiness to lead. Even if the pick did pollute his message of “change,” the very foundation of his candidacy, it mostly went under the radar.

Then McCain broke with his own message by choosing Palin, just as he claims he breaks with his own party (maverick!). There were probably few vice-presidential contenders on either side of the aisle with less foreign policy experience than Palin had, yet McCain chanced polluting his own message by picking her anyway.

This is where the hypocrisy kicks in: the Obama campaign released a statement in response to the Palin pick ridiculing the governor’s lack of executive experience and foreign policy credentials, conveniently ignoring the nearly equal lack of experience Obama has. In a way, Palin has more experience than Obama because she was a mayor and a governor (if only for a short time) which are positions that equip the politician with executive experience.

Both campaigns have ignored these double standards, of course, because they are on one-track minds-tracks that lead to the White House. It’s politics, after all. You don’t run for president to be nice to everyone all the time.

This whole election has become absurd, hasn’t it? Important and historical, certainly, but absurd nonetheless. It’s no wonder many people throw up their hands in disgust and dramatically declare they’re never voting again. Never!

But vote we must. After what essentially will have been a two-year campaign for president, what we do on Election Day will be the collective response to everything we’ve learned, endured, and debated in that time. It would seem even more absurd to allow ourselves to be subjected to such nonsense and not have the final say on November 4.

So keep that in mind as the mud flies to and fro. Both candidates will be dirty when it’s all over, but we get to decide which man will be able to shower in the White House.

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