Yesterday, I struck up a conversation with another San Francisco Giants fan about the possible conflict between the National League Championship Series and Monday’s Presidential Debate. The Giants are down three games to two. If they pull off a win tonight, the final game will be Monday.
Later, considering which program I want to watch vs. the one I should watch, I thought of how clear it’s become to me that this election is not about the candidates themselves, but about the visions, or perhaps more accurately, the stories about America they embody. Most people seem less than thrilled by the candidates themselves, but everyone takes the stories seriously.
A high school history teacher planted the seeds of this understanding decades ago. At the time of another presidential election, he suggested that most voters are swayed by an image of times past, a story of “the good old days,” which probably never existed. He argued that the imagination of the conservatives of his day echoed the television show, Bonanza.
Ben Cartwright and his three sons carved a fine spread out of the wilderness – they did it on their own, by the sweat of their own brows, thank you very much. The only hint of government was the Virginia City sheriff, and generally the Cartwrights told him what to do and not vice versa.
In a similar manner, liberals dream of Kennedy’s “Camelot” and its precursor, The New Deal. For the generation that came of age during The Great Society and the War on Poverty, “less government” is a codeword for Charles Dickens’ London: “Are there no prisions? Are there no workhouses?”
And whenever you hear a politician of any persuasion invoke “family values,” you can bet their story embodies the world of Norman Rockwell. Anyone grow up in a family like this?
We’re dealing with powerful stuff here – nothing drives us more than our dreams, which means we need to be careful. I liked Bonanza and still enjoy Norman Rockwell, but I try not to bring them into the voting booth. Kids learn how to separate dreams from the world of make-believe: they know that “I want to be a doctor” is different from “I want to fly like Super-man.” What kids know, politicians seem to forget.
Tomorrow night, the presidential candidates are scheduled to discuss “foreign policy.” Webster’s Dictionary defines policy as, “1. wise, expedient, or prudent conduct or management. 2. a principle, plan, or course of action, as pursued by a government, organization, or individual, etc.“
I expect to hear a story that goes like this: ”We are number one and if you want to keep it that way, vote for me.” I’m not so sure we’ll hear much about policy, aka, “wise, expedient, or prudent conduct or management.” For that we often have to look to outsiders.
I’ve done precisely that over the last few months, and was startled to find a clear and feasible foreign policy articulated with very similar features from both a liberal and a conservative point of view. There’s a beautiful story in there too, one involving national renewal through shared effort and dedication. A dream, to be sure, but it doesn’t require Superman. This will be the topic of a post in the coming week.
Meanwhile, though I’ll be watching the debate, I’ll have my phone set to the instant scoreboard app. ”The Giants are number one,” is a dream that could happen, but if Superman is listening, we’re not above asking for help!
*** Update, Sunday Night ***
The Giants won, 6-1, so there will be a game 7!