It could be worse. We could be living in a battleground state, besieged by TV and radio ads, harassed by phone calls, our streets littered with candidate flyers and our highways flooded with billboards with smiling faces. Instead, we live in Illinois where the popular vote for President was decided before the conventions.
So, Illinois residents shouldn't complain. But we do.
To begin with, the Presidential debates were neither illuminating nor inspiring. The candidates spent the time making points, not making sense. Their strategy of beaming meaningful looks onto the screen backfired on one friend who switched to Real Housewives so she could watch some quality TV.
It wasn't clear after three of the four debates who lost and why. Did he lose because his style was too aggressive or too passive? Or did he lose because his attitude was too cocky or too condescending? Did he or did he not project "true leadership?" To find out what I thought, I tuned into the post-debate show commentators. The trick here is to switch channels until you find the news station most likely to cast your favorite in a favorable light.
Then there is the problem of the shifting polls. Early in the summer, the demographers and many political strategists predicted a very close race for a variety of reasons. They were right. Polls usually shift over the course of time by one or two or five points. In a close election, the shifts mean that who is on top shifts with each news cycle.
Advice to dieters is to go on the scales only once a week. The same advice should be given to political news junkies. I check the polls on the train on my way to work; after lunch; one last time before I leave; once again before I go to sleep. How irritating that the polls, like tea leaves, can't tell me what I want to know.
And finally, there is an undercurrent of disappointment. Last Presidential election, there was the knowledge that history was being made. Our Senator from Illinois grew into a rock star for college students. He could do no wrong.
Not so this year. Friends, colleagues, and family say "I don't want to get involved. This election doesn't excite me. I am so disgusted by the candidates. A curse on both their houses."
People are amazed at the campaign volunteers who eagerly put boots on the ground and cell phones to the ear. These volunteers willingly spend a glorious fall day identifying the "good" voters, the voters to ignore, and the undecided. Doors are slammed in their faces. They are pigeon-holed by people intent on ripping their arguments to shreds. Yet they return, weekend after weekend; year after year; candidate after candidate.
Not all campaign workers volunteer for noble reasons. Chicago is legendary for local ward heelers turning out the vote in return for city and county jobs. Those seeking a career in politics do it to show they have what it takes to win. Lobbyists build good faith by keeping company with candidates knocking on district doors. Interest groups require their members to do the neighborhood legwork so as to build up political capital.
However, many more volunteers from all political parties across the United States give freely of their time and good will. In return, they feel pride in making a difference and joy in joining with others of shared vision. Brief conversations with strangers lead to smiles of appreciation which spur them on. For these volunteers, politics is more than a spectator sport. It is democracy in action.
After his first visit here in the 1830s, a young Frenchman wrote about a new paradigm called democracy.
How does it happen that in the United States, where the inhabitants have only recently immigrated to the land which they now occupy, and brought neither customs nor traditions with them there; where they met one another for the first time with no previous acquaintance; where, in short, the instinctive love of country can scarcely exist; how does it happen that everyone takes as zealous an interest in the affairs of his township, his county, and the whole state as if they were his own? It is because everyone, in his sphere, takes an active part in the government of society.
-Alexis de Tocquieville, Democracy in America, Vol. 1, Chapter 14.
Which is why, year after year, I knock on doors for my candidate, whoever she or he is.