Maybe you’ve heard the words “phony war”. Also known as the “Twilight War”, the “Bore War” and der Sitzkrieg, it refers to the period from the autumn of 1939 to the spring of 1940 when there was precious little ground combat between Nazi Germany and the western Allies.
The same term can be applied to contemporary American presidential elections – the current one, in particular – and what transpires between the end of the nominating process and the national conventions (this year: August 27-30 in Tampa for the Republicans; September 3-6 in Charlotte for the Democrats).
We don’t lack for “news” on a daily basis – each morning brings fresh charges and counter-charges from the two major parties. That said, much of what transpires has a certain . . . well, nothingness to it.
Consider the “news” of the past few days and what it says about solving America’s problems vs. wasting the electorate’s time with idle conspiracy talk and the politics of distraction.
1) Romney and the NAACP. Let’s begin with nominee-in-waiting’s appearance last week at the NAACP convention in Houston. As was widely reported, Romney was booed for saying he’d repeal Obamacare. He also received applause at times (here’s the full video; you might surprised to know he’s also applauded 17 times). Why did Romney attend, given that 95% of the African-American went for Barack Obama in 2008? Obviously, Romney has nowhere to go but up. Well, that and rsvp’ing yes (something President Obama didn’t) was the statesmanlike thing to do. Still, it didn’t stop the conspiracy mill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks it was Romney’s intent to draw boos, thus drawing an angry “blacklash” from white voters. Others have seconded the black-helicopter thinking that Romney wasn’t there to reach across the divide, but instead to play the race card.
2) Obama’s Missing Year. We’ve had the birth-certificate controversy and a list of myths too long to get into here (my favorite – Obama’s must be the Anti-Christ because (a) the presidential limousine’s nicknamed “The Beast” and (b) on the day after the Chicago native won the presidency, the winning number in Illinois’ Evening Pick 3 lottery was 6-6-6). Add to the list: Obama’s missing year at Columbia University – computer records showing that Obama was an Ivy League undergrad for only one year, not two. It turns out that a computer glitch was to blame and Obama did indeed spend two years at Morningside Heights. So much for the conspiracy theory that, the year we assumed Obama was studying at Columbia, he actually was a CIA spy in Pakistan. Here’s a thought: if the economy continues to stagnate and his numbers in the swing state start to erode, Obama should consider spreading these sorts of rumors: like the guy who peddles Dos Equis beer, it makes him at lot more interesting than his current self.
3) Nixon Goes to China Is Romney. The Obama campaign has spent the summer months doing its darnedest to convince a gullible media that Romney’s closeting business and financial skeletons. As Obama strategist David Axelrod put it: “the most secretive candidate that we’ve seen, frankly, since Richard Nixon.” Romney as Nixon – sort of a hard visual to imagine given that the former is three inches taller, doesn’t sport a five o’clock shadow, and has a genial personality seemingly devoid of the same inner demons that haunted the late president. About invoking Nixon: he resigned from office 38 years ago next month. A voter in this election who can vividly recall Watergate at youngest is probably in his or her mid-50s. Considering that part of Obama’s challenge in this election is reawakening young voters who can’t recall the last seven presidents, much less Nixon’s middle name or his pet dog, shouldn’t the Democrat be shopping a more contemporary villain? Maybe Big Brother offers a clue.
So there you have it: four recent events, with two things in common: they have nothing to do with an economic recovery, a stronger foreign policy or a surer national sense of self; they do nothing to ease the electorate’s weariness with poor politics and poorer political actors.
Unlike most children, it’s too bad we can’t teach the media to keep their hands out of the garbage.