Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Presidential election: bored already

It occurs to me that I have next-to-no interest in the forthcoming American presidential election. Perhaps it's just me, but I don't think so. The coverage so far has been notable for its going-through-the-motions quality. Synthetic arguments and desperate hyping-up of no-hopers have so far failed to inject passion or suspense into the race for the White House. The United States stands at a crossroads both economically and geopolitically; the issues involved are stark, the prospect darker than at any time since World War II. Who will be the next incumbent of the Oval Office ought to be a matter of pressing concern. I find myself yawning.

You might say it's early days yet, given that the final vote won't take place till November. But this time four years ago I was hooked. Partly it was the fascinating and then unresolved struggle on the Democratic side between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Partly it was a sense of an era closing and a genuinely new and exciting phase in US history beginning. Partly - though this came later - it was the explosion onto the world stage of the scintillating, freakish, incomprehensible Sarah Palin (whom I originally quite liked). But above all, I think, it was the sense that all this mattered.

Where are we today? Barack Obama will be the Democrat nominee, and he will probably (but not definitely, not even almost certainly) keep his job. But he's no longer the fresh, inspirational, world-changing icon that he was four years ago. It was apparent even then that he had been oversold, that it was unlikely that his performance in office would remake the map of the world. Yet it was hard not to be swept up in some of the excitement. His emergence and slow-motion destruction of the natural front-runner was awesome to behold. And there was, besides, the ongoing soap-opera of The Clintons to enjoy.

Similarly, on the Republican side there was some enjoyment to be had from not knowing which of the middle-aged white men would ultimately triumph. Even then, the early picking-off of the Revivalist loonies robbed the race of much of its colour. But for a time Rudi Giuliani looked to have the potential to be an exciting candidate, and the long tussle between John McCain and Mitt Romney for the chance to be on the losing side provided a rare spectacle of the victory of substance over money. This time, the fight was over before it really began. Sarah Palin's less-inspiring doppelganger Michele Bachmann provided some early frights, as did the (for a while) scarily plausible Rick Perry. But it's still January, and we know it will be Romney - a man who, aside from his adherence to the wacky religion of Mormonism, offers no interest whatever.

So we're left with a months-long war of attrition between the newly-boring Barack Obama and the always-boring Mitt Romney, for a job that doesn't seem to matter as much as it once did. Stand by for the most boring set of debates ever.