Russ Ringsak

It Used To Be Fun

November 2, 2004

It’s been a fine summer and a mild fall around here. One gorgeous day after another, rain falling when we needed it and not so much when we didn’t. No trees knocked down from storms. Slept with the windows open and never put the air conditioner in there. A generally grade-A summer, marred only by the unremitting political roiling in the media mud. From which a person could generally escape, but not always.

At informal gatherings early in the season, in the bars or at parties, the subject of politics would sometimes come up and people would have their say about things and the conversation would move on. By late summer the exchanges became more heated as positions solidified and from the middle of August on, it was simply not brought up at all. Only sidewise, an offhand joke here and there, but to bring it up as if you were pretending undecidedness, or if you were obviously motivated to change someone’s mind to your own stance; that was considered downright rude. We’re having a good time, don’t bring it up. Nobody’s mind is going to change except about you; you who were thoughtless enough to try to ruin a fun evening. You might as well ask someone straight up: “How much money do you make, anyway? And do you believe in a God and if not why not, you idiot, and if so which one, and how could you?” This is how fights get started. So stuff it.

It’s been like that for weeks and weeks. Just do not bring it up. I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country but in our split house we don’t even watch the news in the same room, just to avoid the fleeting smirk, the look of disgust, the low exhaling ‘ssheeeez.’ Any slight gesture is taken as another cheap shot, another display of outright dumbness or blind insensitivity on the part of the other. We don’t watch the news much anyway, both gradually breaking away from it. Especially now. Neither one can believe that this could be a close election, with such knuckle-dragging stupidity and low wickedness on the other side.

So it seems there could be relief from the unspoken dreary deadlocked acrimony come this Tuesday, but even that is cast as unlikely. We’ve been forced into election news for the last four years without respite, and the worst outcome now would be the beginning of another four years of carping and whining. The RealClearPolitics map stands today, late Sunday, with eight battleground states and two main scenarios likely for either candidate and another four or five combinations possible, and all of it tossed into a statistical dead heat. The kind of situation a betting man would likely avoid in favor of something less convoluted, something like a friendly blackjack table or a roulette wheel. Perhaps the craps pit. At least at the casino issues are settled cleanly and quickly.

The greatest miseries will of course come in the most narrow victories, state by state. Brigades of lawyers, far as the eye can see, are mounted up and ready to march. Good grief. More legislation through litigation. The term ‘civil lawsuit’ is an oxymoron. Can’t we just have an old-fashioned landslide, shake hands and get rational? Get back to business?

Not likely, they say. It’ll be a nail-biter. Many states lie within the boundaries of predictable polling error. They say a lot of hanky-panky is going on in registering voters. Dead people have again risen, just long enough to vote absentee, often for someone they’d oppose if their surrogate wasn’t voting them otherwise.

I see that reruns of The Simpsons are on television every evening, and I feel I’ve never paid enough attention to them. They come on at the same time as the news. That’s probably not an accident. I may have to hide away in among The Simpsons and NYPD Blue reruns for the next few years. Check back once in a while until there are signs of a return to civility.

It used to be fun. It was fun back when it lasted only as long as a single baseball season and it felt like another national sport. This was also back in the days when the candidates were chosen right there at the conventions. Funky-looking delegates from obscure corners of the country would grandstand during the long roll calls, colorful bullshitters making passionate speeches full of outrageous claims and morning-glory prophesies, along with dark warnings of the intentions of the opposition. Deals would be cut in rooms full of smoke and the smell of whiskey and the chosen prospect would emerge at the end of the week, knighted and burnished, selected from our vast legions of good persons brave and true, a gift to a grateful nation, given to us by a few hundred obsessive and bleary bad-breath sleep-deprived drunks. In a couple of weeks the other side would do the same thing: From four nights of well-oiled wrangling they would toss us another impeccable option, another shining star, teeth gleaming and shoes polished, smart, sophisticated, a paragon of strength and virtue. Boy, those were the days.

Now of course the political conventions happen deep in the third year of the relentless campaign and are referred to as pep rallies and are given only partial coverage from the networks. They remind me vaguely of the Oscar ceremonies, something else most truckers don’t watch. There may occur a couple of interesting bits, but in general they are pageants of clumsy and uninteresting cheerleaders, all in suits. And a few weeks later, at the end of the three-year campaign, most of us are tired of those we agree with and even more tired of those we don’t. We’d like them all to go away, but they won’t. Even the losers keep popping up, for years, as media feature stories.

So, like I say, it’s the Sunday before the voting. By the time this is up and posted we will either have decided the issue or not, one direction or the other, and the chances are about fifty-fifty either way. Fifty-fifty on the overall direction, and fifty-fifty on suffering through yet more weeks of this miserable aggravation, all the way to the Inauguration and then perhaps all the way to the election of 2008.

And I hope it doesn’t happen that way but if it does I’m outta there. I’ll be off watching The Simpsons, or maybe the National Football League. Or the Timberwolves. Or reading a book. Or anything else that doesn’t place me as a witness to the ongoing and incessant name-calling and bitter accusatory squabbling of well-dressed people under bright lights in front of television cameras.

P.S. November 4, 2004. Happily, I seem to have been wrong on all counts. The voting was generally smooth and the word ‘lawsuit’ has yet to be applied to the any of the proceedings. The concession speech was graceful and said the right things about us being one country and the acceptance speech seconded the motion. So I’m optimistic. I still might check out The Simpsons, but at least I won’t be driven there by rancor.

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