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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Post-Race America and Me

Some years back, I lost any real, sustained interest in politics. I lost it after the long Democratic primary of 2008. I blame a horse.

Honestly. I blame a horse on my sudden lack of real political interest. Eight Belles, the first filly (apparently) to run in the Kentucky Derby in nine years, was the proclaimed pick of then-Prez-candidate Hillary Clinton--a woman who earlier in the year was favored by those 'in the know' to win the Democratic nomination, but, by May of 2008, had slipped to the dark horse category because of Barack Obama's strong performance.

Obama showed no amount of irony when he picked his own horse for that year's Derby, and chose Big Brown.

Big Brown won the race. Eight Belles knew for whom the eight bells tolled, and broke two ankles. She was euthanized on the spot, and suddenly the Run for the Roses was a media metaphor for the Race to the White House.

Politics became quite literally a horse race.

Certainly, politics, especially the politics of Presidential ponderings, has always been a horse race of sorts, but seldom have political pundits made it so nakedly about racehorses. Big Brown and Eight Belles became Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton's supporters were defacto beating a dead horse as they continued to flog their candidate toward the finish line long after she'd expired.

True: I didn't want Clinton to win. I was entranced by the new face in the crowd--Obama--and thought there'd been enough Bushes and Clintons wandering around the White House since Reagan.

Also true: It seemed rather disgusting to watch the media seize upon the death of a horse, in a sport I already found distasteful and cruel to animals, as a way of articulating a Presidential campaign, and as a way of titillating an American audience suffering from ADD and an itchy remote-finger.

For a while, I relied on Jon Stewart on The Daily Show to help me navigate the muddied track of American politics, but it didn't take long for his inspired commentary to reinforce my beliefs: if politics is about the Art of the possible, covering politics is about the Art of the inevitable. No one, it seems, watches a news show to see what is possibly there. They watch it, instead, to reinforce what they already believe to be true.

Rather than see the random acts that caused poor Eight Belles to break her ankles and be put down, most consumers of American news appeared to buy the notion that an unrelated horse race meant something to a Presidential race. Hell, it's old hat to really, truly call the election cycle a "horse race," as if we're not electing, but betting on, a candidate.

Tonight is the night of the New York mayoral primary. I know which candidate I hope wins. I am not, however, obsessively refreshing the results, nor am I watching all NY channels at once. I haven't placed my bets, I'm not in the stands with an elaborate hat, and I have no taste for a mint julep (which, to be honest, tastes like a combo of Crest toothpaste and Scope mixed with Kayo syrup).

Also tonight, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, President Barack Obama, gave a rather unfocused speech about the events in Syria. I do not have a horse in that race either, which is all the Syrian conflict seems to be about if you spend a lot of time reading Facebook feeds and online blogs (which I do) and watching news networks (which I don't).

For me, Syria should be about chemical weapons. For others, it's about winning small
victories with 'like' posts and recommendations, and ratings galore.

So there's Eight Belles, running a race she doesn't really understand, being the subject of a Presidential metaphor beyond her interest, with broken ankles on a muddy track. And there's CNN, FOX, MSNBC (ah--now I get why angry commenters always TYPE IN ALL CAPS: all the channels they watch are aggressively capitalized), and tomorrow the ratings for each channel will be released. We all saw the same speech, no matter which station we picked, but somehow the ratings will matter.

Tweets will be reported as if quotations from Cicero, and a winner will be declared.

We'll hear Boehner's response to the speech, we'll hear Bloomberg's response to the primary, we'll hear Limbaugh's response to palaver, and serious journalists will cover all these things just to keep up their pageviews.

Life, of course, is not a race. But a lot of people seem to think it is, and are hoping opponents break their own ankles.

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