SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
A good number of my readers note that I am not terribly into the presidential election process. That is so. It’s not that I don’t think this process is important. To the contrary, this decision is vitally important to America and to the world. On the other hand, I am not happy with the saturation coverage that the election campaign receives in our media and in the blogosphere. It quickly assumes the dignity and perspective of a carnival show, and the most absurd side shows quickly get blown up into matters of utmost hyperbole. I’ll just note three points of hyperventilation from the last two weeks:
John McCain has been endorsed by megachurch pastor John Hagee, a man with known anti-Catholic sentiments. McCain apparently committed an outrage by accepting Hagee’s endorsement, and failing to distance himself sufficiently from Hagee’s socio-theological perspectives.
Geraldine Ferraro, a former Democratic vice presidential candidate, suggested that the candidacy of Barack Obama was in its essence an affirmative-action campaign, and that Obama got great benefit from being an African-American in the election process. Hillary Clinton evidently failed sufficiently to distance herself from Ferraro and allowed her to continue with some vaguely defined relationship with the Clinton campaign for too many days after she made her offensive remarks.
Barack Obama attends a church in Chicago whose pastor has made a number of speeches which express tolerance for Black Muslim groups and which express resentment against white society. Obama apparently continues to be a member of his church, and while he has criticized this pastor, he apparently has not done so with sufficient vigor.
To me, it is amazing that such matters occupy hours of air time and fill pages of print media. In fact, the coverage of these issues seems obsessive-compulsive, and the level of on-air venting related to them leaps off the faux-rage meter. Let’s get serious. The nation faces extremely grim issues right now. I’d put these two right at the top:
what to do about a looming recession, with financial institutions teetering in a way we have not seen since World War II, as our currency collapses and the world gives our economy a resounding vote of no-confidence;
how to deal with a conflict in Iraq which is draining enormous resources (helping to provoke the nation’s economic woes in fact) and for which there are no neat or obvious solutions.
I suppose that it’s fair to talk about the candidates’ religious convictions and the social and political implications of those convictions. In fact, the media are even free to talk about the social and political convictions of people who are ministers to the presidential candidates. But we should really pause and ask—what, exactly, is the purpose of this dialogue? It goes to one of the great fortes of the American media: its ability to sensationalize things that truly don’t matter and to ignore things that do.
So I am driven to make an observation that is likely to be very unpopular with my readers. I believe that going through the entire cohort of candidates with which this race began, there were three who were obviously suited to be presidential candidates. These three have different gifts and different shortcomings. None of them has won my complete confidence or support, but each of them has won my respect. They are the three candidates to which the people, in their wisdom, have reduced the field: John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This field of candidates does a better job of representing America and the aspirations of its people than any final group of candidates in my lifetime. Any of them will be a dramatic improvement over the current occupant of the White House. And each of them deserves our respect and admiration for going through the electoral meatgrinder that the American genius has devised for straining candidates.
I’ll go one further step. I actually like each of these candidates.
As the crazy season progresses, we will be told that each of these candidates is the devil incarnate, or some other embodiment of pure evil. Each will have his or her integrity, motives and prior conduct tested, and inevitably most of the tests will be tendentious and unfair. Appeals will be made to us, to the voters, to act on the basis of fear, hatred and rank prejudice. The right reaction from the electorate is to resist these efforts to dirty our electoral process, to respect the basic human dignity and dedication to service of the candidates, and to keep our eyes fixed on the major issues before the country and the suitability of the candidates to cope with those issues.
The silly season is upon us. But we, the audience, need to resist being drawn into it. We can have an election process that is worthy of us as a people and of our institutions. The broadcast and print media have little interest in that, of course, but public opinion can and should serve as a discipline, and the media needs to be on the other side of the rod.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”