Every so often, I get an idea that I know would make me millions of dollars. Today, I had another one: develop and market a pill that, when taken, would put you to sleep until the morning after the election. The pill would be magically timed to work no matter when you took it, meaning a citizen in Texas or California might not want to take one until perhaps mid-October, but the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire might be expected to take one New Year's Eve -- thus avoiding not only the debates and punditary frenzy of the general election, but the entire primary season as well. It would be marketed under the name "The Rip Van Winkle Pill."
Okay, I fully admit that this would be medically dangerous, and likely downright impossible. But, hey, I bet I'd sell a bunch of RVW pills anyway (at least in the fantasy world of my overwrought imagination). How many of us would be tempted, at some point, to just say to friends and family, "I'll be out until November 7th, so just leave me a message and I'll get back to you then."
As the 2012 election season draws to a close, it feels (as always) as though it's lasted four full years. At least to me -- but maybe I'm just jaded and exhausted because I pay such close attention to politics (speaking of things that are medically dangerous...).
It's gotten so bad that I can't even bring myself to write a talking points column today. Oh, sure, I could give President Obama another award for his response to Hurricane Sandy, and even say a few nice things about Chris Christie, for whom I've always had a soft spot, just because of his double-barrelled "Chris" name (on which subject, I fully admit, I am biased).
I could go back and dig out the best talking points of the election from Obama and other Democrats out there on the hustings, but at this point it really feels like it would be a wasted effort. How many of you, reading this, are still unsure about which candidate you're going to vote for? I have pro-Obama readers, I have pro-Romney readers (no, really!), and I bet I even have a few pro-third-party readers to boot. But I really seriously doubt anyone who is still unsure is spending time today reading my column. I could be wrong (I often am), but it just feels like there's no one left to convince, one way or the other.
Of course, I don't live in a swing state -- that could have a lot to do with it. And I am not donating time to any candidate's campaign for "get out the vote" efforts, because my personal professional code of ethics forbids me to do such things (although I did make an exception last week to fully endorse a cat who is running for the United States Senate... which goes to show my own state of mind, I suppose). But I do not fault anyone for doing so, and in fact heartily encourage such participation in our democratic process.
Want Obama to win? Call up your local Democrats and offer to put in some hours in a phone bank, cold-calling people in swing states, trying to convince them to vote for Barack. Want to see Romney elected? Call up your local Republicans and offer to do the same for Mitt.
One local Republican Party outlet has a new ad up which is well worth viewing -- for all voters. In it, the fictional C. Montgomery Burns offers up the choice between "Broccoli Obama" and "Meat Romney." At this point, we could all use a little comedy relief, right?
As in all elections, what interests me most are the things the media get horribly, horribly wrong. The biggest one this year would have to be "debates don't matter, they never change anyone's mind." The first Romney/Obama debate will be what is remembered in this election cycle, no matter who wins next Tuesday. It was a true "game-changer," no matter how overused the term is. It was just as much of a game-changer as, in 2008, the choice of Sarah Palin turned out to be (which was, at the time, dismissed by the punditocracy because: "running mates don't matter, they never change anyone's mind").
The one nugget of conventional wisdom that (thankfully) seems to have gone away this year was the obsession by pundits earlier over whether this would be a "choice" election or a "referendum" election. It's such a nonsensical theme, like saying the choice of eating ice cream is because it is either "sweet" or "cold." Well, um... it's both. It always is. But, like I said, thankfully this seems to have fallen by the wayside.
The media did catch one break this time around. In every single election (at least the ones I've lived through), two storylines are consistently pushed by the media -- right up to Election Day itself. The first is the old "this is the most important election in your lifetime." This is trotted out every single time, and nobody ever notices that this cry of "Wolf!" is exactly the same as what was said four years ago. Exactly. Go back and look it up -- just pick any presidential election year, and you'll easily find those stating it's the most important election in all of American history.
But it's the second quadrennial media theme in which the pundits actually caught a break this time around. Because every election -- no matter how big a blowout -- is always portrayed as "excruciatingly close" right up until the minute the votes start getting actually counted. This time around, the media may be right. There, I said it: a tired old media theme from the mainstream media could actually come to pass. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. I mean, these things just don't happen normally, right?
Another thing this year's election may be remembered for -- if Obama wins -- is the "October Surprise" dished out by Mother Nature. Let's see... in 2008, the first day of the Republican National Convention was disrupted by a hurricane... in 2012, the first day of the Republican National Convention was disrupted by a hurricane... and then Hurricane Sandy arrived just in time for President Obama to look presidential and caring in the final week of the election. Now, I'm not one of those folks who pretends to be able to divine "God's will," so I leave it for others to draw conclusions about deities and what message is being sent, if any. Ahem.
The other last-minute news politically looks like it's going to turn out to be pretty much of a non-starter. The unemployment rate inched up from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent, but more jobs than expected were created in October. This allows both sides to spin things, without giving either side a true knockout punch. Romney will say things are not heading in the right direction -- the rate went up! But with unemployment under the psychologically-important level of 8 percent, Romney and the Republicans are robbed of a big conspiracy theory (the one about how last month's numbers were manipulated for political reasons). If unemployment was back up to 8.1 percent, you can bet your bottom dollar you'd be hearing this theme today.
Obama will point to the number of jobs created and say things are heading in the right direction, the recovery is on track, so just give him four more years and things'll be better! But because the number went up, not down, Obama can't point to the rate itself as a good trend. If the rate had fallen to, say, 7.6 percent, Obama would be hammering this number home every chance he got, to put it another way.
But they'll have to spin things on their own, because this week is the one week that I don't think anyone needs my help in formulating talking points. I've been doing this column for five years now, and while Democrats certainly need all the help they can get on this front in normal times, at the tail end of a presidential election the party machine is cranked into such a high gear that my efforts wouldn't even be icing on the cake at this point. I checked, and in 2008 the Friday before Election Day had no Friday Talking Points, because it was also the last weekday before Hallowe'en, so my annual "scare the pants off everyone with a little comedy" Hallowe'en column took precedence (if you missed it, check out my scary stories for 2012 from Wednesday).
Comedy is important, in the midst of the political maelstrom. It allows us all to gain some well-needed perspective, at times. Which is why I started off joking about a Rip Van Winkle Pill (you can just picture the ads: "Wake me when it's over!"). But in reality nobody should sleep through an election. One of the best lines Obama has been using over the last month or so is to bait the crowd during a speech with a line he knows will get booed, and then respond (seemingly spontaneously) with: "Don't boo... vote!"
I think America should enact this into law. I would support making it illegal to complain about politics -- any politics, from any viewpoint or party, including criticizing any politician -- unless you can prove you voted in the last election. I would call it the "If You Didn't Vote, You Can't Complain Act." Republicans want photo identification for voting? Well, I want any political commentator -- even those posting comments to blogs and articles such as this one -- to have to certify that they've voted before they're allowed to say anything -- anything -- about politics.
Okay, that was comedy as well, I admit. Or at least a weak attempt. First Amendment... blah blah... unconstitutional... yadda yadda. I know it could never happen, but it certainly would be nice, wouldn't it?
I leave you with excerpts from a real comedian (well, he plays one on teevee, at least) ranting about the importance of participating. This was from a rant by Craig Ferguson I heard in the last election cycle (read the whole thing, if you'd like -- it's hilarious). Craig is a naturalized United States citizen, so he personally feels very strongly about the issue of voting. And I can't say I disagree. So, to close, here is Craig Ferguson on why "Wake me when it's over" is really not even an option, or shouldn't be:
Are we so lost we have to be sold our own democratic right? What the hell is wrong with... what is going on?!? We have to "sexy-up" the vote for young people? Remember four years ago Puff Diddley had that group "Vote or Die"? Then it turns out he didn't even vote himself! Maybe he forgot which name he registered under.
Listen. Here's what I am saying to you... here's what I'm saying. Here's what I've been saying: If you don't vote, you're a moron. Alright?
If you... settle down. I know you say: "Well, not voting is a vote" -- no, it isn't! Not voting is... is just being stupid. Voting is not sexy. Voting is not hip. It is not fashionable. It's not a movie. It's not a videogame. All the kids hate doing it. Frankly, voting is a pain in the ass, but here's a word -- look it up -- it is your duty to vote! "Duty?"
The foundation in this democracy is based on free people making free choices. So, young people, if you can't take your hand out of your bag of Cheetos long enough to fill out a form, then you can't complain when we wind up with President Sanjaya!
Listen. I am an American. This country at... is at war -- right now. Americans, in foreign lands, wearing uniforms representing this country, are losing their lives. Americans here in this country are losing their homes. We have two patriotic candidates, right? They both love this country. They have different ideas about what to do with it. Learn about them. Read about them. Question them. Listen to them. Then, on Election Day, exercise your sacred right as American, and listen to yourself.
Craig then took a commercial break, and returned with a second half to his rant, where he gave everyone in the audience voter registration cards:
Here's the thing that made me think, though, the... the people who didn't register to vote, when they were asked why they didn't vote, they said, ah... half of them said, "I'm not interested in the election," and the other half said, "I'm not interested in politics."
How could you be not interested in politics? You've got, you've got to have an opinion about something. Don't you think? I mean, I don't know -- "I'm not interested in politics" -- do you, do you live anywhere? Do you, do you shop anywhere? Do you drive a car? Do you put on pants? Do you leave the house at any point? Do you own the house? Do you rent the house? Do you ever, ah, hope that the police will save you from something that may or may not be illegal? Of course you're involved in politics. If you're alive you're involved in politics.
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