Back in the pre-convention calm of August, I sat on the beach on Cape Cod, my head buried not just in sand but in a suitcase-size volume* of War and Peace. Since Labor Day, Tolstoy's fictional account of 19th-century Russia, though a soap opera the likes of which HBO has never approximated, has not captivated me nearly as much as the daily -- and sometimes, hourly -- news. Between the presidential race and what's happening on Wall Street and in the rest of the world's markets there's no doubt that we live in an eye-popping time. And whether or not there really is an ancient Chinese proverb to that effect, it feels like we're under a curse.
So cursed, in fact, that watching the presidential town hall meeting last night -- you know, the one that felt like we were dealing with two candidates instead of the pedantic debate two weeks ago that felt like we were back in Al Gore's graduate class, An Inconvenient Truth -- I couldn't help but wonder why anyone would want to be president right now. Between the country's escalating money troubles, the deepening energy crisis, our involvement in two wars, and whether or not we should talk to Iran with or without preconditions -- we've made a mess of things. God bless McCain and Obama -- those politicians with egos the size of California and Texas put together -- is all I have to say. Someone has to have K-P duty.
In less than a month this race that will have lasted 658 days will be over (unless we again find ourselves wrangling over hanging chads) and perhaps the national sport of watching Tina Fey proving herself to be the more prepared GOP running mate will be over. I will turn away from the 2008 version of the femme fatale that has so obsessed my friends and me (one even declared herself a member of the wholly fictitious Sarah Palin Anonymous just so she could stop watching YouTube and get on with her work) and go back to reading about Tolstoy's femme fatale, Natasha Rostov.
But I think I won't be as wholly absorbed in my novel as before. I can't recall a single president who's had a calamity-free term so maybe we'll come out of the fix we're in just fine. But to my mind, the only correct response to the debate's final question last night, "What don't you know and how will you learn it?" (which neither McCain nor Obama actually answered) would have been, I don't have the slightest idea how we're going to right all that's wrong with the country and I'm just going to have to wing it.
For our part, if we'd demanded more answers when promises like "shock and awe" and "Wall Street can regulate itself" were made, we wouldn't find ourselves living in times that are quite so riveting. But as War and Peace shows, we never really do learn from the past.
*Additional baggage charges may apply