Presidential Politics Can Be Boring

Friday, 18 May 2012 12:12 PM

By Susan Estrich

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When my kids were young, about the worst thing they could say about something was that it was capital-b BORRRING. You know how they stretch out the word, as in why say more?

When I used to work in politics, and people would roll their eyes and look bored, I would shake my head in amazement. How could anyone find politics, especially presidential politics, boring?

This is how. I've started to skim the stories. OK, maybe skim is overstating it. What I really do is skip them — in favor of an item about a new drug being tested for Alzheimer's, or a shocking death in the Kennedy family, or the latest from Sanford, Fla.

Obviously, the election is important. Obviously, there are important differences between President Obama and Gov. Romney. Obviously, the stakes are high. All of those things that broadcasters and pundits (I plead guilty) say to grab your attention are true. But, at least right now, it's just not very compelling.

It was better when the Republicans were out there tearing each other apart. And I don't just mean better for Democrats. I mean better television. You know things have gotten dull when there are stories about who will play Bob Beckel (no offense, Bob) of "The Five" on "Saturday Night Live."

One of the meanest things anyone ever said about Hillary Clinton was that she reminded every man of his first wife. I don't think that's true. Most men's first wives are no Hillary Clintons — or for all their troubles, they'd still be married to them (as is her husband).

But Romney? He's the guy you were supposed to like. Good looking, good family, great prospects, nice car. "What could you possibly see in him?" my roommate Abigail would ask me (she grew up with guys like that) during my "preppy rich boy" phase. At the time, I saw everything I wasn't. After a while, I realized it was just as well.

Every time I see Romney, now that Newt Gingrich isn't attacking him and Rick Santorum isn't hectoring him, I think of the guys whose names I can't remember.

To be honest, Romney isn't the only one who's boring. The president has moments, like when he talked about gay marriage, that command your attention. But most of the time, at least where I live, he commands my attention by causing traffic backups because he's here again raising millions of dollars from people who pay $40,000 apiece to say "I had dinner with the president last night."

The only consolation to the obscene amounts of money being spent on ads that I don't want to see or hear is that I don't watch them or listen to them. Super PACs may be an abomination, but what if no one pays any attention to them?

It will get better. Eventually. There will be conventions (which have become, in all honesty, pretty boring) and debates (which, I have to admit, also often are boring, at least for long stretches). There are moments you remember: "Read my lips . . ." and "I knew Jack Kennedy . . ." and "Are you better off . . ." Then again, can you remember anything from the last Obama-McCain debate? Maybe George Bush was just being real back in 1992 when he looked at his watch during his debate with Bill Clinton.

But it's likely to get worse before it gets better. The signs are already there. If you want to know the definition of desperation, it's talking about whom Romney will pick as his vice presidential candidate. Which boring guy is another boring guy going to pick? The answer is crystal clear: It will be someone you (and I) have never heard of and probably won't hear of again once the name comes out. The most interesting day will be the day before we know who it is.

Politics shouldn't be boring. People around the world are willing to fight and die for the right to participate in the political process, even as millions of us change the station. Maybe the television folks and the reporters and, yes, the candidates need to work harder to engage us in the process. Or maybe we just have to do it ourselves.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author whose writings have appeared in newspapers such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post, and she has been a commentator on countless TV news programs. Read more reports from Susan Estrich — Click Here Now.








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