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

May 2016

Fighting Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Front Runner

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Habits of Highly Cynical People

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Unhackable

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Imperium

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Elisabeth Zerofsky on Marine Le Pen, Paul Wachter on the quest for an unhackable email, Rebecca Solnit on cynical people, Andrew J. Bacevich on truth and fiction in the age of war, Samuel James photographs E.P.L. soccer, a story by Vince Passaro, and more

The old woman’s husband, even older than she, has lived long enough. She is careful not to say this to her daughters, to her brother, to the doctors. He’s had a stroke, or something like a stroke, and at first he seemed to be recovering. Then there were intermittent bad days and setbacks and now, a few weeks in, they are all bad days: he is declining, delirious, difficult, and she is exhausted. Her mind — usually a badger den of plans, desires, and, most of all, worry — now, at night, in its rare moments of rest, tumbles into a pale white silence. She doesn’t want him to live on like this, biting the nurses like a dog that needs to be put down.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Front Runner·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The F.N. asked to be sent to an institution whose legitimacy it did not accept, and French voters rewarded the party with first place in the election."
Illustration (detail) by Matthew Richardson
Article
American Imperium·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"One consequence of remaining perpetually at war is that the political landscape in America does not include a peace party."
Illustration (detail) by Steven Dana
Article
War of The Roses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Guns never had a political agenda. They were first and foremost about themselves and their music."
Photograph (detail) by Marc Canter
Article
A Shrinking World, An Opening Sky·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Her mind — usually a badger den of plans, desires, and, most of all, worry — now, at night, in its rare moments of rest, tumbles into a pale white silence."
The No Mind Not Thinks No Things vokgret (detail), by Doug and Mike Starn. Courtesy the artists and Galerie Lelong, New York City

Average number of times a Canadian apologizes each week:

4

Beaumont, Texas, produces the saddest tweets.

The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.

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