Too Boring for an Electoral Vote?

My friend Everett Maroon is kicking off another round of Political InQueery at Bitch Magazine, and it’s got me thinking about the 2012 campaign even more than I already was. The story currently occupying my brainmeats this week is the coverage about how the Republican contenders are ‘too boring.’ Apparently elections are supposed to be more fun, and boring candidates are just not enjoyable to cover. Or vote for. Headlines about how dull the Republicans are keep flashing across my screen and I’m wondering if these are the new criteria we are going to use to evaluate political candidates, how entertaining they are.

Before I delve into the entertainment value of the current contenders, it’s worth noting, yet again, that the 2012 election is a long way away. We are still a year away from the nominating convention. By this time next year, the nominations will probably be pretty much sewn up after a series of primaries, but the election will still be months away. One of the more heavily criticised aspects of the electoral system in the United States by people on the outside looking in is the prolonged nature of our political campaigns. Can you imagine how radically different things would be if candidates had only 30 or 60 days to campaign effectively for office? And, of course, how different the results might be with instant runoff voting rather than our simplistic first past the post approach to elections?

Politics has always involved a heavy dose of charisma; if you want to succeed in politics you need to be personable and charming. You need to be good at getting and holding attention. You must be a persuasive and effective communicator. Not for nothing were some of our most celebrated Presidents also great orators. This is indisputable. It’s a sad fact of politics that people who may have excellent ideas and the drive to see them through can’t take political office because they won’t be able to motivate voters, of course, but the bottom line is that politics requires an ability to thrive in public spaces and to compel an audience.

When you have to keep in the public eye for over a year, it’s not enough to just be entertaining and interesting. You also need to have serious stamina, and the ability to avoid making major political mistakes. Which appears easier said than done. I’m still bitter, for example, that Edwards dropped out of the race right before my primary in 2008; after I’d already sent in my absentee ballot voting for him, I’d add. He cracked after a few months on the campaign trail when it became obvious that a private matter was going to become public. Any candidate has the potential to do that, and any candidate has the potential to just not be able to keep up with the campaign, to keep being relevant and interesting and exciting. To keep in the spotlight, to continue drawing attention, is hard work. That level of scrutiny is intense and it cannot be easy.

But how dull are the Republicans? Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman seem to be the big three candidates under consideration right now. Donald Trump was rumoured. Michelle Bachmann is threatening. Everyone seems to be waiting to see what Sarah Palin plans to do. Countless others are thinking about throwing their hats into the ring and while they will narrow down to a much shorter list on the primary ballots, we’re going to see a big pack of contenders vying for the chance to wrest the White House from the Democrats. I note that the current contenders slant heavily towards the evangelical and I am not the only one to have observed this. Given the flak President Obama caught for his radical pastor, I’m interested to see how people handle the often equally offensive (if not more so) rhetoric that comes from some hardline evangelical preachers.

And I cannot help but wonder if some of the complaining about the candidates being ‘boring’ is coming from the eagerness to see Sarah Palin in the race. Palin has managed to keep more or less consistently in the public eye since 2008, a pretty sure sign to me that she plans to run, and she also clearly plans to milk the will-she-or-won’t-she for as long as possible. Who can blame her; she’s long on theatrics and short on actual meaningful policy, which means that the way to stay in the public eye is for her to keep performing for the public. As soon as she actually has to settle down and generate a platform and start talking about it, she’s going to run into trouble.

Now, many of the current Republican candidates are lacking both audience interest and platforms, and could rightfully be considered writeoffs from the campaign at this point. Others, though, actually do have policy proposals. I am not a fan of most of their policy proposals and I don’t like the politics they have evidenced over the last few years, which means I would be highly unlikely to vote for any of them, but I’m not sure that I would call them boring. I’d much rather look at a candidate with good policy and less commercial appeal—Sarah Palin’s opposite, if you will.

Of course, we all know how Al Gore fared in 2000 when he brought the policy and was short in the charisma department. So it’s clear that my definition of an interesting candidate differs from that of the mainstream, let alone that of most voters. And I cannot help but suspect that some of this comes from our absurdly long election cycle. The antics of political candidates are entertaining and create a focus for voters. Most people would be bored to tears by hearing nothing but policy for the next 17 months. I, on the other hand, would be in hog heaven.