Eager for campaign cacophony to commence

By Jayson Jacoby July 27, 2012 09:38 am

The dog days have descended and the nation lapses into the heat-induced stupor of high summer.

But we will not remain languid, ice-choked lemonade parked in the grass beside our lawn chairs, for long.

It’s a presidential election year.

And the exaggerations and general hysteria, in this grandest of campaigns, are as reliable as the maple leaves turning yellow and crimson.

I’m eager for the cacophony to commence.

Democracy, let’s be honest, is a loudmouth.

When we rouse ourselves every four years to pick our leader we transform, as a society, into that relative who everybody tries to hide from at birthday parties and weddings.

You know the relative I mean — the one who, once you’ve been securely segregated from the rest of the herd waiting to get to the shrimp dip, starts in with the stories that would soon have Tolstoy saying “is there an end in sight here?”

I’m not put off by the braggadocio and occasional lunacy of a national campaign, though.

The entertainment value is considerable, for one thing.

I don’t know how viewers can do anything but chuckle at the escapades the ad makers indulge in to portray the opposition as not merely misguided, but genuinely evil.

I can respect someone who argues, for instance, that Obamacare is too expensive, or that the trickle down benefits of Romney’s tax cuts won’t so much as moisten a single parched middle-class mouth.

But you have to delve deeply into the realm of the ridiculous to imply, as so many attack ads do, that either man has embarked on the exhausting ordeal of a presidential campaign with the sole intention of ruining America.

That doesn’t even make sense.

Ultimately, I have faith in my fellow voters to wade through the muck of zealotry and reach the firm ground of a sober decision.

In particular I have faith in that minority of voters who will decide whether Barack Obama gets another four years in the White House, or whether Mitt Romney will move in come January.

Swing voters, we call them.

The term perhaps implies a lack of fortitude among this cohort, a reluctance to take a stand, but that seems to me a branding they don’t deserve.

Swing voters will fill out a ballot this fall. It’s just that they won’t decide, until the football season is well under way, whether Obama or Romney will get their vote.

Nothing unpatriotic about that, certainly.

Estimates vary about the size of this group, but the consensus among pollsters and others who study such things for a living seems to peg the percentage of swing voters at about 10 percent of the national electorate.

I’m intrigued by this small group with an oversized influence, in part because I consider myself a sort of probationary member.

Probably I’ll go for Romney.

I voted four years ago for John McCain, Romney’s predecessor on the Republican ticket.

And I have not much regretted my choice.

I think Obama is a fine man, but his job requires rather more than a pleasant public personality.

His biggest legislative triumph — passing the Affordable Care Act and then seeing it eke out a surprising victory in the Supreme Court — lacks the breadth of support among the citizenry that made Ronald Reagan’s key first-term initiative — cutting marginal income tax rates — so influential in reviving a sluggish economy.

Nor has Obama matched Reagan’s rhetorical ability to jolt the nation, through the sheer force of his optimism, from the malaise inherited from the preceding administration (in the current case, George W. Bush playing the unfortunate role of Jimmy Carter).

Nonetheless, it’s hardly inconceivable that between now and Nov. 6 either Obama will say something that pushes me into his camp, or else Romney will reveal some policy position that I simply can’t abide.

(Or he’ll keep hiding his tax returns, an obfuscation that’s beginning to annoy me. As if we don’t all know the guy’s loaded.)

But if I do switch my partisan allegiance from 2008 I know what won’t be the reason: The cavalcade of ads that will appropriate our TV screens pretty much from Labor Day until Election Day.

And it’s this refusal to heed the admonitions of the hucksters that gives me a sense of kinship with those swing voters.

It seems to me implausible that voters who haven’t by now concluded that Romney is going to steal their Medicare, or that Obama is going to raid their inheritance to give free contraception to, well, everyone, are also voters who are apt be influenced by TV spots that deliver their simplistic messages with all the subtlety of a Molly Hatchet guitar riff.

If anything, swing voters are insulted by ads so hyperbolic that a náive child would recognize the exaggerations.

Even my five-year-old, I suspect, is savvy enough to understand that neither Obama nor Romney, no matter how sinister they’re purported to be by the PACs, aren’t actually hiding in her closet and waiting for her to fall asleep.

As for that majority of voters who are already committed to a candidate, the campaigns, and the ads, offer only affirmation, not persuasion.

If you’re already convinced that Obama is a communist, or that Romney is a heartless patrician, well, you don’t need TV to tell you which little bubble to darken on your ballot.