The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Frivolities left and right

John Sandberg | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Last week was it.

It was the final straw. The last nail in the coffin. The straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe it was the straw that put the final nail in the camel’s coffin.

Pick whatever cliché you want, but last week was it.

Last week I admitted this is never going to be the presidential election I had hoped for.

Instead, I conceded the 2012 campaign will remain what is has been all along: an embarrassing fight to November, eventually ending with one mud-spattered candidate left standing and thousands of writers, bloggers and TV personalities trying to catch their collective breath.

Mitt Romney’s now infamous remark that 47 percent of Americans are “dependent on government, see themselves as victims (and) believe the government has a responsibility to care for them” was insensitive. It was belittling and inaccurate. It was regrettable and inexcusable.

But I’d guess it’s not the first time something insensitive and stupid was said inside a private fundraiser for either party’s big wigs, and I guarantee it won’t be the last. Romney was in the process of making a larger point about the strategy of his campaign: He is focused mainly on winning over the small percentage of independent voters who are trying to determine which candidate, Romney or President Obama, is the better choice for president.

I’m not okay with Romney demeaning millions of self-motivated Americans, but in terms of electoral strategy, his approach is commonplace. No candidate aims to win 100 percent of the vote, despite what he or she says in public.

If you’re in the mood to launch criticisms, aim for our electoral system, the nature of which encourages presidential candidates to focus on large swaths of the population seen as “winnable” while disregarding other significant portions of the population.

So why did last week put me over the edge?

Because the race for the White House has been relegated to a ‘gotcha’ moment captured by a grainy video taken from a cell phone four months ago.

Because an online article detailing the disorganized nature of Romney’s campaign, founded almost entirely on unnamed sources, can dominate the news cycle for days.

Because Wednesday’s New York Times opinion section chose to publish an 800-word Romney screed, despite the fact it provided no fresh insight. It was a dumbed-down rehashing of the criticisms we’ve all heard for months. Maureen Dowd’s piece, in which she managed to call Romney ‘stupid’ twice in the span of three sentences, could easily have been written by a well-spoken ninth grader instead of a Pulitzer Prize winner at the world’s most highly regarded newspaper.

We deserve more accountability and more substance.

Romney and President Obama have each framed this election as a choice between two candidates with fundamentally different philosophies. And yet, both candidates have shown a shared tendency to play to the fears of Americans rather than our desires for prosperity.

President Obama has not earned reelection. This president, the one with the inspiring story and all that charisma and the best intentions, has governed over three and a half years of increased spending, mounting debt and static unemployment.

Republicans are struggling in an election they should be winning and a Democratic president appears closer to reelection, not because he has earned it, but because the GOP has effectively been framed as the worse of two options.

Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has repeatedly said this is not a common election – that the choice we make for president in 2012 is much more significant than any choice in recent decades.

Then why does 2012 feel like politics as usual?

I refuse to describe this year’s election as a choice between the lesser of two evils because neither Romney nor Obama is evil. At each of their cores is a genuine desire for a better country.

But both are too easily tempted to use the petty press for what it is good at: dragging nonsense into the spotlight under the guise of news, all to distract voters from the real issues at stake.

Uninspiring candidates, trivial press, and too many voters still trying to wade through a pool of doubt by the time November arrives. Such is the embarrassing reality of the 2012 presidential campaign.


John Sandberg is a junior political science major from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.