Thursday, May 01, 2008

Taking Our Temperature

Gary, a co-worker, complained about the length of the election season today. This is common in NH, because along with Iowa, we get started on presidential elections about two full years before the new president takes office. We are swamped with polls and the whole horse race aspect of elections. Gary looks wistfully at the British system of announcing that a new election is going to take place in six weeks. Surprise! We're having an election! Americans never get to know that joy.

It's easy to see why that would look attractive to him. But it will never happen here. These lengthy election seasons happen because really, Americans like it. We must like it because, however much we complain, we don't fix it. Heck, we don't even threaten to improve it. This is how we do democracy here, by constantly taking our own temperature. I will give you a moment to contemplate the unfortunate images that anyone older than forty has about that, with reflections on how appropriate that is to what I'm saying. But you will refrain from mentioning it in the comments, right? No matter how apt the analogy is.

We do these polls; these constant discussions about how racist/sexist/colonialist/greedy/ignorant we are; this navel-gazing about how all our generations - Greatest, Boomer, X, Millennial are doing; this obsession with taking our own temperature. It is not merely that we have more sociologists per square meter than everyone else, but that all of us play at amateur sociology as well. We love this stuff, and we love to complain about how everyone else is obsessed with it.

Other countries don't do this. Even the Brits, Australians, and Canadians, who could be expected to be most like us, don't come near us in this. They are admittedly more self-absorbed than other nations on this score, but this obsession is supreme in America.

America is the farthest left among the conservative nations, and farthest right among the progressive nations, precisely because of this. We're like an overcautious driver stuck in a car going 100 mph, panicked at the consequences of going too far left or right for even a moment, hyperalert and screaming at the passengers.

We should hate this about ourselves and try to change it I suppose, but when you think about it, it's kind of fun. We cover more territory than anyone else, all of us certain that disaster is about to descend on us. And I guess it would if we didn't keep constant attention on each other. Far left or far right extremism probably would happen if we weren't all grabbing for the wheel and arguing about the map. Screw the passengers; we're having an adventure here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fixed times for elections are another limit on government power. The party in power cannot pick and choose the time of elections.

The current length of electioneering has more to do media and primaries than anything else. In the past (say Lincoln's time) you worked quietly through state parties to electioneer in advance. We see that the legacy of the original progressives still acts in baleful ways.