April 14, 2004

no thanks for the memories

According to a New York Times story, Bill Clinton’s memoirs are overdue to the publisher. Apparently the former President is a notorious procrastinator and I would prefer that he simply keep the procrastination up for at least the rest of my life. I simply have no energy for reliving the Clinton scandals and I suspect I am not alone in that regard.

The saddest thing though is not the rehashing of old prevarications, equivocations and miscalculations, but rather why this is current news: the effect on the 2004 Presidential campaign. I don’t know whether the thought that the electorate could be distracted by a memoir concerns me more than does the realization that we have arrived at a juncture where the public accepts that politics trumps substance.

It is tempting to blame the media for the trend toward extreme politicization, but surely that blame belongs most squarely on the American people themselves. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Clinton memoir is about historical events, albeit recent history. I’m just perplexed at how Mr. Clinton’s motivations and actions in the affair to remember could have any bearing on how one might vote in November. And surely we have put those lame discussions about character behind us by now through our apparent insistence on electing people, like the Education President, who have none.

The hard reality is that Americans enjoy the battle.

Politics has become just another arena sport that is brought to us in the grand coliseum which is our collective living rooms. We sit before the made for television burlesque show with fascination over who will draw blood next, or administer the fatal blow. The hooting and howling over Howard Dean’s candidacy meltdown had all of the dignity of an NBA Championship victory riot. And before you email me about how overreaching is my allusion of politics to blood sport, why don’t you first get Valerie Plame’s opinion?

I could easily put together a long list of evidence demonstrating the triumph of form over substance in American politics, but just listing all the stories on fundraiser proceeds would take more time than I care to give. The obvious question remains: how long are we going to put up with substance free campaigns? As long as the electorate continues to respond to sound bites and eschew serious thought on policy positions, we are doomed to a further descent into the political abyss and as I survey the world around me, I don’t see any indication of a trend toward a more informed electorate.

When Clinton’s memoir appears, it will be a big story no doubt. Despite my occasional yearning for those times when things were not quite so rotten, I for one will pass on the chance to relive a Presidency that in many ways only looks good when followed by an administration that took an accumulated legacy of political relativism and internalized it as core values.

Character certainly matters and what we have here folks is definitely a bunch of characters.

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