The self-serving circus of political candidates and media coverage is on full display right now, and it’s not hard to understand why this job opening attracts such clown-like candidates. People who have an aversion to twenty-four hour public scrutiny, inhumane travel schedules, and unsavory relationships rightly shy away from the insanity of presidential campaigning.
This caricature of the democratic process turns not only potential candidates away, but voters as well. Voter participation dropped from 62.3 percent in 2008 to 47.5 percent in 2012. If you haven’t blocked out the memory of that election, the once-jaded electorate whipped itself into a frenzy about the messiah-like or antichrist possibilities (depending on your personal feelings) of one of the candidates. Not surprisingly, many were disappointed.
Some though, haven’t learned the lessons of the past. E. J. Dionne decries the fact that Americans are increasingly cynical about politicians. (I think it would be shocking if Americans weren’t cynical about the 2016 election.) Nary a critical statement could be found in his article about Hillary Clinton, and Dionne peppers the piece with phrases like this: “Above all, she took all of the blows against her and turned them into badges of endurance, toughness and empathy for those who have to come back ‘no matter what the world throws at you.’” Dionne lists her tasks for her potential presidency, without the slightest acknowledgment that these would be difficult for any candidate to accomplish:
Like her husband before her, Clinton is trying to forge a new consensus and is unashamed to pile up policy proposals: on family leave, child care, college affordability, incentives to employers for higher wages, immigration reform, clean energy and limits on the power of wealthy campaign donors.
It’s mostly disappointing that a publication like Commonweal would publish this praise-piece of one single candidate. A religiously oriented journal should demand a more critical eye from its writers, be they liberal or conservative.
Intelligent journalists can fall victim to alternating cycles of worship and despair, tearing down the idols they build up. It’s hard to say whether those running think that they can actually accomplish what they set out to do, but their predecessors know the frustrating reality of checks and balances. While rampant cynicism is not desirable, there is a healthy dose of skepticism that one needs to have when a politician promises the moon. Unrealistic expectations that can’t be met result in the cynicism and despair in democracy that Dionne rightly wants to avoid.
The media infatuation with the personality of each candidate and the alternating cycles of canonization and demonization ruin the real expectations that one should have for the chief executive, and obscure the real questions that need to be asked. Case in point, the New York Times report on Marco Rubio’s wife’s speeding tickets. These types of stories are completely irrelevant and attempt to satisfy an unhealthy obsession of candidates and journalists alike to stay perpetually relevant.
Our government is not reducible to one person with many promises. The presidency is just one office, one part in the larger governing scheme. We don’t need another Messiah.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.