Driving to a Super Bowl party and listening to the hype on the radio. Wow! This was going to be the greatest, most important event in history, greater even than the invention of sliced bread and the square hole in the Chinese nickel; greater than the invention of money.
Just listen to the pre-game and the play-by-play: Breathless excitement. Sports destinies hanging in the balance. Pundits wisely observing that everything hangs on the next play; that it’s time for the team to ‘step up’; That blah blah will surely blah blah, or if not, then blah blah blah.
The really important stuff was going on down on the field, where two teams and their handlers were having a simply splendid nock-about. I loved it. I was a Giants fan in a family of Pats rooters.
Americans love this stuff. I love it. The teams gave us whacking good entertainment. But it is, after all, only a game.
Now, what has all this to do with Politics?
Americans like their political campaigns to be as much like the Super Bowl as possible; as breathless; as minute-by-minute exciting, and as filled with frantic commentary as any half-time show. The media work hard to satisfy us, to turn the campaign into a horse race. Will there be a winner by a nose or by three lengths?
The trouble is that when a horse race is over it’s simply over, done, and finished. Whoever wins the Super Bowl has, well, won. There are no consequences. But when a campaign is over there are profound consequences, the end of a political campaign is just the beginning of something tremendously important.
The effect of treating the campaign like the big game is that the candidates are forced to buy into the approach. Sprinting to the finish line, going for the last minute Hail Mary pass, the debates and discussions between them become, at best, superficial. There is no time for lengthy, reasoned, debates that would unpack the real differences between them, or lay out programs in detail.
Oh, well. Go team, Go!