It should probably be even longer, actually.
Barack Obama would like one right now, really, and who can blame him:
Barack Obama wriggled free of the campaign’s fetters on July 4. Caught in Montana on his daughter Malia’s 10th birthday, he improvised a party.
At the Holiday Inn Express in Butte, a city known for its copper mines and bordellos of old, Obama and family ordered a cake. They loaded an iPod with Malia’s favorite songs and danced and sang. Obama later came close to tears, recalling that Malia told him “it was the best birthday she’d ever had.”
“I know it sounds corny, but last night was actually one of those times where being in a Holiday Inn in Butte without a lot of fanfare. . . . I don’t know whether she was just telling us what we wanted to hear, but I can tell you from my perspective it was one of the best times I’ve had in a long time,” Obama told reporters aboard his campaign plane. Then he quickly turned and went back to his seat.
I never had it quite so random when I was growing up — having a March birthday almost always meant we were definitely living in one place or another rather than on the road between school years, say — but having been in a mobile enough family I recognize, in a very small way, the importance of making something feeling like home even when you’re not in the house. But the larger point of the story is that right now neither Obama nor McCain can catch much of a break — they’re on the road, campaigning and making stops and doing this and that.
Another tiny comparison point — this is the first full-on political blog post of mine in some weeks, at least with reference to the presidential election. It isn’t because the issue is not important to me, of course — anything but! Neither is it because there’s been nothing of note in the meantime — a few interesting bits and pieces have cropped up.
But I needed a big ol’ break from a lot of things, and that’s why I had set up the vacation in the first place to go east, taking advantage of Terrastock to venture further and relax and enjoy life and so forth. It might have seemed like I was plenty busy enough with all the photos and blog posts and the like but that’s simply me being me — I think and write a lot, and a lot of it ends up here by default — and a lot of time I was doing exactly what I wanted to do: zilch. Waking up late, lazily reading books, taking it very, very easy. Heaven, of course.
Part and parcel with that was not paying much attention to the news beyond brief glances to make sure California hadn’t fallen into the sea or the like, and definitely not paying any attention to the political blogosphere in all its forms. That’s the kind of conscious break we all need from time to time from all of our interests and/or employment or whatever, something where you say and think, “It can all get along without me.” And it’s the type of approach that, if both Obama and McCain announced that they were doing the same thing for a while, could probably serve everyone best.
Now, I’m not trying to dream up some sort of proscriptive ‘do this or else’ approach, and there are plenty of reasons why the two campaigns’ organizations, as opposed to the candidates themselves, need to stay on point as time goes forward from here. But there are two points I’d like to bring up as illustrative of why the current campaign cycle — in full effect from now to early November — is a tiring mess all around.
First is something I’ve addressed time and time again — and that, literally, is time. We’re still just under four months away from the election, and time will not speed up any faster. This being the case, why force things? There’s been rumblings going on already regarding such matters as the Republican platform and how it might have to be rewritten — actually, given its ‘yay Bush can do no wrong’ language, it NEEDS to be rewritten at this point — but this is the type of thing that goes on between groups in a larger organization like a major political party, and while there’s plenty of interest on the wonk level to be gathered from it all, it’s essentially an internal debate among a party’s members and pressure groups and areas of vested interest. It is not the kind of thing that requires campaign stops across a pretty huge country every other day, say.
But the second looks back to history and to the fact that it IS a huge country we’re in. We take for granted now that we can dash all about between the contiguous 48 states like so — a five, maybe six hour trip from coast to coast is all that need be done, say — and everything from air conditioning to Blackberrys and iPhones can keep people feeling reasonably cossetted in the maelstrom.
Consider a counterexample — in the nineteenth century, most presidential candidates didn’t campaign at all in the sense that we know it. Quite often they barely moved at all from their homes or places of work — the idea was that their supporters did the heavy lifting in their own areas, spreading the word out. The ‘front-porch campaign’ is the commonly recognized term for it, with two of the most famous examples being James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1900 (that the two ended up being shot could perhaps be seen in retrospect as a conspiracy by railroads annoyed at losing business — did Robert Anton Wilson ever do anything with that idea?), and other examples can be found. In those days, frankly I’d’ve rather chilled on a shady porch myself and let everything work itself out before doing more in a cooler fall atmosphere anyway.
And it’s not just because of the weather or whatever — it’s the whole sense of grind. To quote another bit in that article I linked:
Few Americans can appreciate what Obama is enduring. Michael S. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, said the incessant campaigning at this stage of the contest was “insane.” It is easy for a candidate to get stale, getting in and out of airplanes, repeating the same message, said Dukakis, a former governor of Massachusetts.
“As a candidate you get bored,” he said. “You’ve been saying the same thing over and over again for the last year and a half. What they ought to do is say, ‘OK, you campaign three days a week during the summer.’ What is this every-day stuff?”
And this makes perfect sense to me! It should make perfect sense to everybody. Both candidates have laid their basic groundwork and are essentially refining, tweaking and otherwise shoring things up. What’s there is there and the kind of obsessive tea-leaf reading that goes on over those tiny variations speaks more to the minds of those tea-leaf readers than it does about the candidates themselves. And if the idea is that one shouldn’t show one’s boredom or annoyance or frustration with the process as it stands while one is in that process — well, you know, to heck with that. I’d rather a candidate say, “This really flat out sucks, for these reasons,” and the fact that Obama’s getting close to that point, far from making me think he’s somehow ungrateful or unworthy, just makes me think more of the guy. I’d be feeling the same way, and if McCain’s been similarly grumping about it as well a bit, I’m all for that as well.
I don’t think we need wind-up robot supercandidates who simply show up just to deliver a stump speech and leave again. What’s the point? In that Obama has been generally agreed to be the better speaker of the two and has a more charismatic gift to him, great, but there’s a little thing I like to tell my student workers here at the library — ‘It may be the thousandth time you’ve said something, but it’s the first time someone asking the question has heard it.’ While this advice could just as easily be applied to the candidates, there’s a key difference — it won’t be the first time at all that their audiences have heard their sentiments, and intellectually they *must* know that what they’re hearing is not far removed from what’s already been said and heard elsewhere, as any scrounge of YouTube will confirm. A bit like rock concert tours in that regard, actually. But this gets more into the dynamics of performance and making the mundane seem special and unique, and that would take more time than I have at present to address properly.
Suffice to say I have no problem with the mundane being openly addressed as mundane, and therefore not of overriding necessity. Personally, I’d be fine — MORE than fine — if Obama and McCain basically both said, “You know, Congress isn’t in session, it’s summer, we’ve each got our own people to deal with and plan for as our conventions approach, and there’s a lot to think about as we get closer to November. See everyone in September.” A hectic two months from that point on, yes, but in those two months one could argue that the candidates could then operate in the mode of “Okay, NOW we’re getting down to it, and aiming for that general electorate from here forward.” And again, speaking about the CANDIDATES, not the organizations — those are supposed to be chugging along day to day regardless. That’s the point — if you’re volunteering for one, working for one, you have made that decision and are acting accordingly.
Would that it were all so. Instead we’re going to get a slew of soundbites and bits of speeches and sentiments we’ve already heard all summer long, not to mention oodles of analysis from people all trying to be the next Tim Russert. And you wonder why I don’t watch TV much these days…