Presidential Playground

This year's campaign sounds a bit like a schoolyard spat

Illustration by Peter Noonan

About this time four years ago there were three inspiring figures looking to be the next President of the United States. The Republican nominee was a war hero. The Democrats were sorting out whether their nominee would be the first woman or the first African American to hold the position.

There was a sense that any of the three candidates could have historic presidencies. New Hampshire was a swing state, and we heard a lot about hope and change, discussions of feminism in the context of both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin - and all against that background of an America at war and an economy in meltdown.

Contrast that to what I'm calling the "I'm Rubber You're Glue, What You Say Bounces Off of Me and Sticks to You Election." In 2012, the epic themes of 2008 seem to have been replaced by the voice of Pee Wee Herman declaring: "I know you stink on the economy, but what am I?"

Once again New Hampshire is among seven or so swing states in the presidential election. Both campaigns think they have a good shot here and both Democratic President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney were airing television ads heavily and visiting the state often. However, with a Congressional approval rating dipping as low as 9 percent, the country divided nearly evenly on their feelings about Obama's tenure and Romney coming across as a calculating, flip-flopping businessman-turned-politician, there seems to be very little that is "real" in the contest.

"What any of this has to do with helping you make a decision about who should lead the country is beyond me."

Every day each campaign finds some New Hampshire mayor or a state senator to talk trash on the opponent, usually in the form of a conference call that is rebutted in another conference call by the opposing campaign. If Monday is about the economy, then Tuesday is health care, Wednesday is tax policy while Thursday it is about character and competency. Fridays are usually reserved for discussing the gaffe of the week.

What any of this has to do with helping you make a decision about who should lead the country is beyond me. But these are the most expensive presidential campaigns in American history and it is August, about two months before most people begin to pay attention to the race. They've got to do something.

Of course, all of this back and forth will briefly stop at the end of this month when there are two weeks with national political conventions filled with pomp and flash and silly hats, all meant to convince you that American democracy isn't so childish after all. Then the ads and conference calls will resume and the whole race locally will be up to the state's plurality of voters - independents - who will have to make sense of it all. Maybe they won't be making a choice between two visions, but checking in on how they feel about the economy or how they feel about either candidate.

Or maybe they will just watch the presidential debates waiting to see who can out-insult the other. "Your momma" jokes can't be that far off!

And just think: Once someone finally gets elected, the 2016 New Hampshire primary season begins.

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