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Obesity is an American plague—and no, I’m not talking about overweight Americans. I’m talking about our overweight, supersized presidential campaign. I’m talking about Big Election, the thing that’s moved into our homes and, especially if you live in a “swing state,” is now hogging your television almost 24/7.
There’s a wonderful old American postcard tradition of gigantism, a mixture of (and gentle mocking of) a national, but especially Western, urge toward bravado, braggadocio, and pride when it comes to this country. The imagery on those cards once ranged from giant navel oranges on railroad flatcars to saddled jackalopes (rabbits with antlers) mounted by cowboy riders on the range. Think of the 2012 election season as just such a postcard—without the charm.
Though no one’s bothered to say it, the most striking aspect of this election is its gigantism. American politics is being supersized. Everything—everything—is bigger. There are now scores of super PACs and “social welfare” organizations, hundreds of focus groups, thousands upon thousands of polls, hundreds of thousands of TV ads, copious multi-million dollar contributions to the dark side by the .001 percent, billions of ad dollars flooding the media, up to $3 billion pouring into the coffers of political consultants, and oh yes, though it’s seldom mentioned, trillions of words. It’s as if no one can stop talking about what might otherwise be one of the least energizing elections in recent history: the most vulnerable president in memory versus a candidate who somehow threatens not to beat him, two men about as inspired as a couple of old beanbag chairs. And yet the words about the thrill of it all just keep on pouring out. They stagger (or perhaps stun) the imagination. They are almost all horse race- and performance-oriented. Who is ahead and why? Who is preparing for what and how? Who has the most momentary of advantages and why?Who looked better, talked tougher, or out-maneuvered whom?