The Forever Campaign

What the hell happened?

There was a huge shift in the American psyche at some point in the last few years, and for the life of me I can’t figure out just when it happened.

People have been decrying President Obama’s “perpetual campaign” mode, noting that he’s never really stopped running for president. Oh, sure, between November 2008 and January 2009, he took a bit of a vacation, but it seems like he’s spent years running for president. And it’s rare that he stops campaigning for the job and starts acting like he actually is the president.

But as easy and tempting as it is to blame him (lord knows I have done so plenty), he’s only a symptom of a larger affliction.

We have, as a nation, become utterly obsessed with politics. And I’m not only infected, but — as a blogger — a carrier.

Let’s just look at the past few months. The entire nation descended en masse to put a single United States House of Representatives seat under a microscope, with all the nation suddenly knowing almost every single detail about a single district in upstate New York.

And tomorrow, the people of Massachusetts will cast their ballots on who will fill the “people’s seat” in the Senate vacated by Ted Kennedy (who will achieve five months of sobriety next Monday). The entire nation, it seems, has very firm opinions on whose buttocks ought to be ensconced on that rum-soaked, rump-sprung chair.

Tomorrow, a couple of million people (at most) will make that decision. But the number of people who have invested something in that race will dwarf the number of votes cast by at least one order of magnitude.

You want proof? Last week, the Republican candidate raised an average of a million dollars a day, with the average donation being around $78.00. Seven million divided by 78 equals 89,743 individual donations. You wanna argue that the majority of them came from within Massachusetts?

Me, neither.

Now, I’m willing to give myself an excuse. I live in New Hampshire, and — for better or worse (usually worse) — we’re intertwined with Massachusetts. Hell, our biggest city’s airport renamed itself from “Manchester Airport” to “Manchester Boston Regional Airport.” The city of Boston has more television stations than our entire state. The Department of Transportation considers New Hampshire part of “Greater Massachusetts” when it comes to highway funds. And the unofficial state sport is “bitching about the Massholes.”

So when it comes to politics, it’s no wonder that we Granite Staters find ourselves more than a wee bit interested in what goes on south of the border. With Massachusetts-based broadcasts dominating our TV and radio, and the constant exodus of Bay Staters seeking sanctuary, it’s only common sense — if we know when the state’s going to take another huge lurch towards the brink, we can plan for the next wave of refugees.

Who, more often than not, immediately start working towards changing things to be just like the Commonwealth they just fled.

But I know it’s an excuse. All I can say is that I really have no life. I have nothing better to do with my time. And it’s fun.

But back to that Senate race. Everyone knows about it, everyone has an opinion on it, everyone is invested in it. But how much do they really know?

Ask them (or ask yourself) what they really know about the candidates. Ask them about the background and positions of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) and Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown (R).

Coakley is a career prosecutor and reliable member of the Democratic machine. She’s used her office to prosecute (or not prosecute) cases that are in line with her party’s interests. She’s fought like hell to keep innocent people in jail and keep the guilty free. She’s turned a blind eye to grotesque cases of political corruption and malfeasance when the accused had the right letter after his or her name. And she’s denounced Big Insurance and Big Pharma both before and after attending a big DC fundraiser they threw for her.

Brown is a moderate to liberal Republican with remarkable personal charisma and a squeaky-clean record (the Cosmo centerfold being pretty much the sole exception). He’s a career military officer, a Colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard. He’s pro-life, but not one of the crazies. (When a law requiring hospitals to provide the “morning after” pill to rape victims, Brown sponsored a “conscience amendment” allowing individuals opposed to abortion to refuse to provide it personally. His amendment lost, and he voted for the bill anyway — his amendment wasn’t a “deal-killer.”) He voted for Massachusetts’ universal health care plan that’s running the state into the ground, which could mean he has a pretty good idea of what doesn’t work.

But that’s all getting lost in the shuffle, as what the two symbolize takes center stage. The fact that neither really makes a very good “poster child” for their national parties doesn’t really count. Indeed, a case can be made that both represent what the other side likes pointing out about their opposition: Coakley has lived her life according to the “go along to get along” principle, and Brown isn’t really that different from Mitt Romney and other Republicans who get saddled with the “RINO” (Republicans In Name Only) label.

Tomorrow night, it’ll all be over (at least, I hope), and the entire nation will have to find some new political contest to invest all our hopes and dreams and passions into.

Or, if we’re lucky, something besides politics to obsess over. Something decidedly non-political. Sports, perhaps. Or tulip bulbs.

I won’t. I already know that. I’m hopeless.

Joining the echo chamber
From September Until Now: A Graph of Brown's Rise and Coakley's Fall in Massachusetts