No Comment — October 6, 2011, 9:39 am

A Snapshot from the Age of Distraction

At pollsandvotes.com, Charles Franklin takes a look at polling from the Republican presidential primary race and notes a remarkable phenomenon. On one hand, Mitt Romney is ensconced as the candidate of party elites, effectively the candidate to beat. On the other hand, there has been a very unusual race for the chance to be Romney’s “populist” challenger. Franklin identifies a series of candidates who have risen dramatically and fallen precipitously, usually after only a few weeks of nationwide television exposure, among them Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Herman Cain seems poised to be the next. Some pundits were speculating that Chris Christie would ride the same roller coaster, but then he confirmed his decision not to contend, while Sarah Palin’s coy treatment of the race reflects her dramatic rise and precipitous fall in the polls. Franklin has a graph that presents this information in striking fashion.

It’s not unusual for a political candidate or two to rise dramatically and then melt beneath the lights of the public stage—this happens in almost every election cycle. But it is unusual for so many candidates to rise and collapse in such rapid succession, while still at an early point in the elections. It may tell us something about the quality of the candidate pool. Or it may be revealing of the fickleness and immaturity of the voter group the populists are competing to capture. Or both.

In any event, however, it is characteristic of our current political process. We have created an environment in which scrutiny of political candidates is superficial, and in which candidates can get away with knowing only enough about critical issues to fill a three-by-five-inch filing card. Illiteracy about key economic issues is widespread, and vacuous, simplistic formulations are put forth without being challenged or parsed. Bogus claims about history are made without shame or correction. That would be a fair summary of the televised debates, which offer little actual debating and are often packaged to resemble a television game show. Is America going about picking presidential candidates the way viewers choose their favorite contestants on “American Idol”? America today faces the very real prospect of a double-dip recession, and is deeply enmeshed in two land wars in the Middle East (one of which marks its first decade this week) that are unpopular but that our political elites don’t want to discuss. It faces the prospect of a “lost generation” of un- and underemployed youth. But our political culture continues to avoid vital issues. Instead, we are treated to political tragicomedy. The rapid rise and fall of candidates in the Republican contest is a telling sign of our Age of Distraction.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2016

Trump’s People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Old Man

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Long Rescue

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

New Television

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Improbability Party

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Helen Ouyang on the cost of crowd-sourcing drugs, Paul Wood on Trump's supporters, Walter Kirn on political predictions, Sonia Faleiro on a man's search for his kidnapped children, and Rivka Galchen on The People v. O. J. Simpson.

The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

Photograph (detail) © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Article
Trump’s People·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"All our friends are saying, load up with plenty of ammunition, because after the stores don’t have no food they’re gonna be hitting houses. They’re going to take over America, put their flag on the Capitol.” “Who?” I asked. “ISIS. Oh yeah.”
Photograph by Mark Abramson for Harper's Magazine (detail)
Article
The Long Rescue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

He made them groom and feed the half-dozen horses used to transport the raw bricks to the furnace. Like the horses, the children were beaten with whips.
Photograph (detail) © Narendra Shrestha/EPA/Newscom
Article
The Old Man·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

Illustration (detail) by Jen Renninger
Article
New Television·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

With its lens shifting from the courtroom to the newsroom to people’s back yards, the series evokes the way in which, for a brief, delusory moment, the O. J. verdict seemed to deliver justice for all black men.
Still from The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story © FX Networks

Amount an auditor estimated last year that Oregon could save each year by feeding prisoners less food:

$62,000

Kentucky is the saddest state.

An Italian economist was questioned on suspicion of terrorism after a fellow passenger on an American Airlines flight witnessed him writing differential equations on a pad of paper.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today