My editor begged me not to write about the election. She pleaded that she was drowning under the weight of Op-Eds on the subject and that, as a Brit, I could be relied upon to write about something else. I’m sorry, but this is the last chance I’m going to get, and I think I can be spared half a column.
My point is simply this: When, if ever, has the American public ever been offered such an uninspiring choice? A quick look back suggests the only possibilities since the inauguration of the electoral college are in 1976 (Ford vs. Carter), 1920 (Harding vs. Cox) and 1880 (Garfield vs. Hancock). The only positive note to sound is that it beats the last French presidential election when Jacques Chirac defeated Jean-Marie Le Pen on the back of the cheery slogan “Vote for the crook, not the fascist.”
President Bush is one thing, and you certainly don’t need me to outline his flaws, but in a campaign where the Democrats only had to find Anybody, how did they come up with Nobody? It’s easy: Anybody But Bush. They could have nominated a donkey, they could have nominated Matt Damon, they could probably have nominated the late Hubert Humphrey and won — but John Kerry? I thought at the time of the primaries that it was difficult to see exactly the point of Sen. Kerry. I’m no clearer now thanks to this peculiar smoke-and-mirrors campaign where the liberal running as a moderate (Kerry) saw off the moderate running as a liberal (Howard Dean, remember him?).
If memory serves, John Kerry wound up as the nominee thanks to the momentum generated by 17 Iowans standing in corners. This does not betoken a massive vote of confidence. At the Democratic Convention, Ben Affleck earnestly told the world that what John Kerry needed to do was “enervate the base.” Disturbingly, he seems to have done exactly that. I expect the senator to win next week, but it will be far closer than it needed to have been.
My great fear about President Kerry is that he will actually attempt to reduce America to the same global status as Guinea-Bissau and Kiribati for the misguided motive of international equality. Ideals are one thing, and (as I’ve said here before) one great thing about America is its commitment to ideals, but the ideal that wouldn’t it be great if we all started being nice to one another is not a responsible presidential attitude. Yes, it certainly would be nice, but abnegation of power simply sits up and begs to tie the “international community” down in years of shady “negotiations” during which deals are struck and the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights is left to wither in smoke-filled rooms. Any president acting like this would be the equivalent of a headmaster who insists that everybody call him Dave in a self-defeating attempt to connect with his charges. Joe Lieberman, where are you when your country needs you?
Right, that’s it. I have no more to say about the election. This week I’m going to talk about a really important issue that’s been bothering me for months. Here goes: When will all those guilty people out there understand that it is very discourteous, as well as extremely annoying, to ask questions at the end of a seminar? You have had two hours to ask substantive questions; why wait until the last five minutes when the rest of us have more important and interesting places to go? And please stop prefacing all your remarks with a winsome smile as if apologizing for all the trouble you’re taking.
In fact, while we’re on the subject of tedium, I have decided to make an official application to the Vatican in order to elevate being boring from the ranks of an irritation into a bona fide sin. Being boring is a sin not merely because it sins against charity — that is, consideration for one’s fellows — but against temperance and fortitude and pretty much every other virtue in the book. Think of it like this: Recall the dullest, most mind-numbing, most jargon-crammed wheel-reinventing work of supposed scholarship you have had the misfortune to read. Let’s say it took you, on an optimistic assessment if the book I have in mind is any guide, four hours to read. Multiply that by (say) 20 people in your class and that gives a total of 80 person-hours wasted. Multiply that by the number of students forced to read it since its publication, then factor in the amount of time taken to research and write the thing, and you have a whole heap of hours for which the academic responsible will have to answer to at the Day of Judgment. Just think of all the useful or at least entertaining activities that could have been accomplished during — actually don’t, it’s too depressing.
Speaking of being boring, even The Economist said of John Kerry that he could put a hummingbird into a coma. And that’s my final word on the subject.
Nick Baldock is a second-year history graduate student.