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The Short Attention Span Society | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

The Short Attention Span Society

 

I wake up this morning and The Today Show informs me that suddenly after a week of hearing about Obama's post-convention bounce,John McCain is now ahead and has all the momentum. Supposedly whitewomen voters, who as recently as last week were supporting Obama nearly10 percent more than McCain, were now supporting McCain 12 percent more than Obama. Naturally the on-air pundits attributed nearly all of this to the surprise addition of Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket, but would that many white female voters simply switch sides like that? Are they that ideologically flexible?

 

 

I have this regular debate with my fellow progressive friends aboutwhether voters are simply stupid. I always play devil's advocate andargue that the voters are not stupid, just misinformed. That a barrageof 24-hour cable news numbs them and makes them more susceptible thanthey should be to the ignorant and blatantly false arguments ofthe right. But lately I haven't been so sure.

 

 

It's not that the Obama campaign is flawless or has perfected itsmessaging--it hasn't. But by all accounts McCain's convention speechwas a dud. He didn't address the number one issue in the country--theeconomy--in any remotely substantive way, he was heckled, stood in fronta picture of a high school (that was meant to be Walter Reed Hospital),chewed up most of his air-time recounting his days as a POW--whichliterally every speaker before him had already done--and was thoroughlyupstaged (and continues to be) by his own running mate. This should havebeen a recipe for disaster, right?

 

 

Wrong. Somehow, magically it's as if Obama's speech and the Democratic convention never happened. Seemingly overnight, the Republican party's "drill, baby, drill" chrous wiped all of that away. Again, not because they wereso persuasive or compelling but just because it was memorable, I guess.Now everything is maverick this and maverick that and I find myselfwondering, how did everything get so bad so quickly?

 

 

My favorite left wing blogs are in crisis mode, behaving as if it's allover and as if Obama can never do anything right. These are the samepeople who felt like we were sitting pretty a week ago. Sarah Palin whowas practically drenched in scandals about twelve days ago is now the biggest political star in the country?! Did she give a major policy speech thatwowed us? No. Did she conduct a single interview that fleshed out herpositions and background? No. She gave a very effective attack speechthat was riddled with outright lies and inaccuracies. Remember allthe hooplah over Hillary's speech? What happened?

 

 

My theory is that we are a short attention span nation. Which is why we are so in love with polls. They provide a quick snapshot of undeniably dubious but instantly recognizable information. We like to know who's up and who's down, sometimes from day to day. And what's odd is the polls seem to really change from day to day. Who are these strange voters who are with Obama Monday through Friday, yet support McCain on the weekends?

 

 

Obama has been fond of saying "the American voters aren't stupid" lately. But I'm inclined to think the jury is still out, at least for the next few weeks. Will voters continue to ignore Palin's complete lack of knowledge about foreign affairs and the economy and McCain's complete endorsement of Bush's agenda and policies? Or will they remember how they were feeling a week ago and get back, as Bill Clinton described it, on "the right side of history."

 

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