Long time readers of my blog know I used to write a lot about politics. I eventually shied away from such posts for a couple of reasons. First, while I have no trouble separating an artist's political views from his or her artistic output, I've become increasingly aware that many other people do. Orson Scott Card is a good example of a writer who made his political opinions known and as a result has turned off many potential readers. One can argue that for every reader you lose because you hold a given political opinion, you gain others who agree with you. But, honestly, I'd rather not have people form opinions about my books in advance because they heard on my blog that I'm a libertarian atheist. This definitely bleeds over into the work, and if a reader dislikes these philosophies in my fiction, I'm cool with that. The work is what it is. But I don't want people thinking they know everything I write just by glancing at this blog.
Second, I also stopped writing about politics in large part because I've lost a lot of my passion. I felt like serious issues were discussed in the eighties, nineties, and in the years after 9-11. But politics in the age of twitter and facebook seems hopelessly trivial and vapid. I would be interested in a political debate about whether or not a president should have the right to assassinate a US citizen on foreign soil with a drone strike. I'd be interested in debating the root causes of poverty, and how to reform education to reflect the reality that we now outsource a great deal of our memory and analytical skills to machines. I'm bored stiff by debating whether candidate A is going to reduce our deficit by 3 trillion dollars over twenty years or candidate B is going to reduce it by 5 trillion over thirty years, or whatever. People talk about the stark differences between the hyper polarized parties, but I honestly don't see them. The parties are debating how what shades to paint the walls of our great palace of democracy. No one is talking about the fact that the foundations of that palace are in desperate danger of crumbling.
So, all of this is a long and probably unneeded prologue to my making a point about the biggest political story of the week, the presidential debate. I listened to the debate on the radio and thought that both candidates were just babbling talking points. If I'd been doing shots every time Romney said "jobs" I'd have passed out before they got to the third question. I was stunned to discover the next day that the pundits were declaring that Romney won. It wasn't that I thought Obama won, I just came away from the debate feeling really good about backing Gary Johnson.
But, in light of the majority verdict, I wanted to put forward a theory about why Romney did so well. Obama complained on Thursday that he wondered why the real Romney hadn't shown up. I would argue that the problem was that Obama believed his own campaign spin, and the parody figure of Romney created by the media. It doesn't much matter who is running for president. The playbook is that Democrats are wimpy socialists and Republicans are heartless dimwits with no connection to the common man. Romney especially has been targeted as being a cold and ruthless billionaire who builds his mansions out of the bones of poor children. I've heard 10,000 jokes about how stiff and robotic he is, how devoid of soul, and how he can't open his mouth without making a gaffe.
Surprise! Romney was friendly, bright, and funny. I still thought he was talking in sound bites and trivia, but he didn't follow the year long media script of being a mean-spirited weirdo from another planet.
I think Obama wasn't ready for this debate because he believed his own negative ads about Romney. I think the strategy was to show up and play it safe and let Romney be Romney, and all the swing voters would be repulsed. Now, he's complaining that the Romney he wanted to debate didn't turn up.
Of course, that's kind of a pattern for Obama. The economy he wanted didn't turn up. The opposition party he wanted didn't sit down with him. The technologies he wanted didn't sell. And the foreign policy he wanted got derailed when democracy-loving twitter users in the middle east didn't wind up taking over their countries according to Thomas Friedman's script.
None of this means that Romney would be a better president. But the fact that one of these two men will be leading our country for the next four years really makes me regret my atheism, since I think, at this moment in time, prayer for divine intervention to is a pretty attractive plan.