As I start this column, the Iowa caucuses have been going on for less than half an hour. The 24-hour news channels, however, have been covering them, intensely, all day. The early returns aren’t in, but, since I don’t expect to finish this until the totals are final, we can keep talking.
Every four years, we go through primary season. This year, with neither party having an incumbent who can run for office, nor a vice-president who wishes to run, there is an especially large field. The network anchors assure me that, by next Wednesday, the field will have narrowed considerably as the trailing candidates drop out.
This is important stuff. We’re at the end days of what I hope will prove to be the worst presidency ever (as in “we will not ever elect anyone worse”). We have a huge deficit and trade imbalance, a tattered reputation among other countries, and people are dying in a war we didn’t have to start.
Unfortunately, if you watch the American news, you wouldn’t know this. You would think it’s all a horse race, a matter of who wins and who loses. Some say the Democratic choice is between Obama and Clinton, ignoring the fact that John Edwards seems to be getting more support than at least one of those people. On the Republican side, they seem to be willing to include John McCain in the battle along with top vote-getters Huckabee and Romney, but that might not last past Tuesday.
None of this will last past Tuesday, when New Hampshire votes in the first primary. Two states, neither with large nor demographically representative populations, set the stage for the political discussions. As a New Yorker, I resent any other region claiming to be important enough to matter. But I’m more disturbed at the idea that a single person, a candidate, can save us.
Are superhero comics (and other entertainments) to blame? That would certainly make writing this column easier. It makes writing and delivering the news easier too, with a simple narrative a mass audience can understand. It’s much more fun to talk about which candidate you’d prefer to hang out with over a beer, or which candidate appeals to soccer moms, NASCAR dads and the “Sex in the City” single women. And if one candidate can swoop in from the sky with a cape or an invisible plane and save us from the bad guys, that’s the best story of all.
This isn’t how we get real change. In real life, there isn’t a single hero who saves the day. As one of those scary Marxist-feminists (although I belong to the less celebrated Groucho faction), I know that power comes from the bottom up, not the top down. The troops came home from Viet Nam because millions of people marched in the streets, not because the President saw the light. Former slaves and women got the vote because they demanded it, not because white men thought it was a good idea for them to have it.
In the same way, neither Huckabee nor Obama (whom the networks are now declaring to be the winners) will bring about real change by himself. I mean, both have last names that end in vowels, so that’s something, but it won’t change your life, nor mine. They’ll only be able to bring the troops home, or end legal abortion (depending on who wins) if the people let them.
If this is the choice of the people, the will of the governed, that’s the way it is. But if it happens because we’re too busy talking about who looks more comfortable in a pantsuit, we’ve abused our democracy. And neither Superman nor Wonder Woman will be able to save us from that one.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess of ComicMix, would like to let people know that she also likes Harpo a lot.