Some people enjoy the whole political machine, organism, game, whatever it is the kids call it these days. Other people seem to hate it so much that it wraps around to form a warped sort of love.
I fall into neither of these groups; I vote when I feel that my vote can contribute to the process in some positive/informed way, or when voting isn’t going to make me late for work or mess with a child’s naptime. Once I have voted, I feel like I’ve earned the right to complain about politicians in between elections, regardless of whether I filled in the little oval next to their names. I watch Jon Stewart and read Newsweek and Time whenever I’m in a doctor’s office. Does that make me well-informed? Does it even elevate me above the level of basic ignorance? Probably not. I’m OK with this.
I find that many people seem to be just as personally invested and vulnerable about their politics as they are about their religions, and so I try to avoid stepping on toes – or egos – by generally steering clear of those areas in casual conversation. I don’t think the United States’ political system holds more than a nodding acquaintance with good enough, but it’s better than a lot of the alternatives and I know I don’t possess the intensity necessary to effect macro-level change. (And, frankly, if I did have that kind of intensity on-hand, I’d apply it to several dozen other areas before I even thought about politics for fun and profit.)
The short version: I’m lazy and cynical, and those are the stones that create the paths to apathy and ambivalence.
Lately, though – once every four years, give or take – that ambivalence has edged closer to distaste and outright avoidance. The flooding of the airwaves and clogging of the Internets in service of (mostly) rich (mostly) white (mostly) men selling themselves as cheaply as possible to as many customers as possible is unpleasant enough; the slimy, try-not-to-get-any-on-you residue from the smear tactics and name-calling turns it onto something overtly aversive to me.
So, I don’t watch political ads. I avoid the debates. And I could have mailed in most of my votes as absentee ballots two years ago and would have likely had a very high level of reliability between those and my choices now. (That is, as long as the vote-counters were willing to accept “Assuming these guys are running again, please reapply my 2012 votes to them again. For the remaining positions, please select a roughly equal mix of candidates from as many different political parties, ethnicities, age cohorts and whatever other demographic details apply. In absence of this level of information, please just fill in the little ovals in an interesting, preferably symmetrical, pattern.”)
I carefully avoid politically-leaning conversations with almost all family members because, to me, one’s political inclinations are fairly similar to one’s sexual orientation: you may experiment with various styles during your formative years, but by the time you’re an adult you have pretty much found your groove. Following the discovery of the groove, most people spend the rest of their lives digging deeper into it, so it becomes harder and harder to tolerate the idea of trying things a different way.
It becomes a very private thing, for the most part, though some people will always choose to make their living this way, amidst a certain inevitable degree of scandal and stickiness. And I firmly believe that you would have as much luck compelling a lifelong self-avowed far-left Democrat to begin stumping on behalf of Mitt Romney as you would have in coercing a lifelong self-avowed gay man to begin finding trees and bicycles sexually stimulating.
(Go ahead, sit with that image for a moment. And then try to convince me that the idea of forcing someone into a lifestyle of dendrophilia or mechanophilia is any more ridiculous than the idea of retraining someone’s homosexual proclivities.
…that’s what I thought.)
Anyway. (It really is an oddly compelling set of images, isn’t it? Enough to make a girl lose her train of thought. Now, where was I…?)
Right: political ads. I very, very rarely watch TV in real time anymore, and have become so spoiled by the existence of our DVR that if I somehow have to watch something during its regularly scheduled time, I feel resentful and often pull out a book so that I can read during the commercials. This protects me from the vast majority of political ads, and I typically use my iPod in the car, thereby keeping myself nicely insulated from lots of the media blitz.
Of course, I can’t avoid it completely. I listen to Boston AM news radio at least part of every drive into the city, so I end up aware of people and trends in government whether I want to be or not. Obviously, there are advertisements in the sidebars on Facebook, and I’m more than a little surprised that Words With Friends isn’t constantly being brought to me by a different earnest and deeply trustworthy politician-to-be. And don’t let’s forget the ever-increasing status messages and comments, when people we call “friends” (but wouldn’t be able to pick out of a photo line-up with their initials stamped on their foreheads) start oversharing their preferences, exploits, personal bests, proclivities and even deviancies, in service of “getting the vote out.” I find them vaguely annoying – no more or less relevant to me than requests for oxen or elf booties or an extra-large purple vibrator, depending on which game Facebook has convinced them to play – and deeply ignorable.
But yesterday, within the span of an hour, three people on my Facebook list (with no known interconnection between them other than me) mentioned the same political ad. The message had been approved by a rich white man in Michigan by the name of Pete Hoekstra, and if I could adequately describe the ad to you without providing a link, I would happily do so. After all, every time someone new clicks on his link, several million neurons die (I’m not yet sure whose, but it seems a logical consequence… and do you know what I’m paraphrasing there?).
I know next to nothing about Mr. Hoekstra, but what I have learned in the past hour is enough to convince me that I would prefer to have Rod Blagojevich reinstated as governor of Illinois than to trust this guy to represent me at any level. Blagojevich is slimy and crazy enough to believe his own words, true, but you can spot his crazy from a mile away. I don’t have any idea whether Hoekstra is any more adept at suppressing the crazy.
My non-fan-girl status centers around that little blurb that you hear at the end of political campaign ads, now: “I’m Joe Schmo and I approved this message.” I’d never given it much thought, but if I had, I’d have assumed it was just a legal thing to make some government campaign-funds-regulator type happy. But it appears that these politicians apparently actually do view and approve their own ads, and they often take part in the creation and design process, too. So this ad wasn’t some sort of twisted, reverse-psychology sort of gag on the part of his opponent, but a true reflection of some of Mr. Hoekstra’s personal and professional priorities.
Without further ado, the ad in question:
This is one of those situations where it would probably be easier to isolate the few things that are right about the ad, instead of focusing on all of the things it got so very, very wrong.
But where’s the fun in that? I started off trying to outline a few drinking games that could accompany this ad. For instance, everyone could do a shot each time the actress’ accent slips a little farther beyond the line between inappropriately faked to offensively caricatured. Or maybe everyone must drink constantly through the commercial except when she is saying “spend it now.” But those would probably work better if I were to subject myself to a larger sample of his oeuvre: I don’t care what kind of liquor you’re using, I think it would be very difficult to get sufficiently, brain-insulatingly drunk before the inanity of the ad causes hairline fractures to occur all over your skull. After all, a brain can only withstand a certain number of simultaneous aneurysms before it will start to swell. The problem with expanding my awareness of his complete videography is that I really just do not want to hear any more of what this guy has to say.
Then I started playing around with alphabet games, acronym contests, and the like. It could be fun to see what sorts of creative ideas people could come up with if they had to describe the commercial with words starting with each of the letters in, say, ASSHAT or SPEND IT ON POT (in that order, of course). Or find an adjective that describes the ad for each letter of the alphabet: Absurd… Bigoted… Caricature… Xenophobic… Yellowgirl (this term actually appeared in the HTML coding for the online version of the ad; Hoekstra’s team insists it was a reference to the color of her shirt and it has since been changed to “yellowshirtgirl”)… Zero apparent insight, seeing as how he has since pulled the ad (having debuted it statewide in Michigan during the Superbowl… whoops) but insists that the ad did what he wanted.
At the end of the day, though, it all stopped being funny. Or, to be accurate, it never was funny, but for a while I was able to focus on the brashness and flagrant political incorrectness coming from this career politician. I could lambast him for his thoughtlessness and raise a mock shot glass in his honor.
It didn’t take long, though, for me to remember exactly why it’s not funny… nor is it sad, or pathetic, or innocently stupid. It’s bullying, on a very high level: he’s a big kid on the playground, and he’s trying to raise his own stature by bringing his opponent down – or, at least, trying to. But not only did he try and level the playing field by name-calling and insults at his opponent, but he had a smaller, less powerful third party do it. A third party who is forced to act a little bit stupid (OK, maybe a lot) and whose smarm comes across as discordant as a toddler swearing: you recognize the words, but they just don’t make any sense coming from this seemingly nice, happy individual.
Ugh. I feel like I was able to set the stage pretty well here, but now I’m having a hard time articulating exactly why I hated this commercial so much. But I simply refuse to watch it again to remind myself.
I think you get the idea, anyway. I never held any votes that I could have given to this man, but I hope that at least one person out there in cyberspace happens to also reside in Michigan. Whether or not you vote for this guy is your business and I respect that; I just hope you were able to use this to add to your little pile o’ knowledge about the guy and ultimately decide where to best spend your votes.
They don’t cost much, those little votes, but they are priceless.