Today’s post contains a gift for readers who already know which candidate they intend to vote for in the American Presidential election this November.
If you’ve been following the campaign since the Tim Pawlenty days and are sickened by the stupidity, disgusted by the waste of millions of dollars for ads that lie and distort, and enraged by the spinning heads on TV, Perfect Whole hereby grants you permission not to pay attention to any of it.
You can turn off the TV or catch up your DVR, hide your politically obsessed friends on Facebook, and take a break from your blogs (except this one, obviously). You can cultivate a list of fascinating topics to switch to when people, particularly your relatives, try to engage you in unwanted political debates. For the next three months, it is no longer your civic duty to keep up with the campaign. You don’t even have to watch a single convention speech. Just print, clip, and fill out the following permission slip and hand it to anybody who tries to tell you otherwise:
Of course, you’re excused only if you know for whom you intend to cast your vote. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are very different candidates, and people who know their own minds about taxes, foreign affairs, corporate power, energy policy, and social issues can easily determine which candidate agrees with them. Neither is trying to poach committed voters from the opposite camp because both know that such a switch is nearly impossible at this point. The campaigns need to rally their bases in time for get-out-the-vote efforts, but other than that, the spectacle exists for the benefit of people who aren’t politically cognizant enough to know whether their views are more like President Obama’s or more like Governor Romney’s.
It’s hard to believe that such citizens exist, but they do, and they are extremely important. They’re called “low-information voters,” and our miserable, wasteful three-ring circus of a Presidential election campaign is aimed primarily at them. Among the scariest facts about our democracy is that a few million low-information voters residing in a handful of swing states will decide the election for us, on god-only-knows what criteria. Many Americans simply don’t want to waste their beautiful minds thinking too hard about what the marginal tax rate should be on the highest earners, or about the best use of American power to promote stability in the post-Arab Spring Middle East, or whether Keynesian economics is the proper approach to job creation. If you’ve ever wondered why we need to talk about which candidate someone would prefer to have a beer with, well, now you know.
Most political news is nonsense, anyway, about as relevant to our lives as the TomKat split. Cracked.com, not generally my go-to source for penetrating news analysis, ran a smart piece called “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds.” The article counseled people to avoid any article that features words like gaffe, blast, or blow in the headline, or that trumpets the outrageous remarks of a low-level political aide or “lawmaker” (i.e. not a Congresscritter or Senator), or whose headline forms a question (“Is This the End of the World As We Know It?”).
Most political news between now and November 6, 2012 will consist of exactly what the Cracked.com article describes: one candidate will make a mistake, and the other will criticize him for it. Some disaster will happen, and overpaid pundits will tell us which candidate it hurts or helps most. And of course, we will experience no shortage of people saying silly things or posing unanswerable questions. It’s safe to ignore it all.
The real news about conflicts, policies, events, and cultural changes that affect the lives of ordinary people in your town, your state, the U.S. and around the globe still matters. Those stories are a lot less sexy and a lot harder to understand, but maybe between now and Election Night, we can all catch up on some of it, now that we have this handy permission slip.
If you experience severe campaign withdrawal and need a fix, you can always spend 30 seconds on Nate Silver’s eerily precise FiveThirtyEight, take a quick glance at the forecast to see who is winning, and then return to sanity.
But if that’s not enough civic engagement and you absolutely must talk about politics or perish, then why not talk to some low-information voters in swing states and fill them in about the issues that matter most to you? Those are conversations that can change the course of history.
But if you don’t want to, you’re excused. Let me know if you need a note for gym.