Thursday, October 16, 2008

Confessions of a Newly-Addicted "Political Junkie"

One of my most recent button designs

The term "political junkie" has been around for a while now. There's a guy over at NPR, Ken Rudin, who is commonly called "the Political Junkie," as if there were only one such person; but really it's a fairly common condition, especially in the autumn of 2008. It certainly applies to me these days, and to John, and to lots of other people.

Now, I freely admit that I have kind of an addictive personality anyway, a distinct tendency to obsess over one enthusiasm or another for months or years at a time before being seduced by the next one. Over the past 42 years or so I've had all-consuming interests in the Monkees, the Batman tv series, the Beatles, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Quantum Leap, my own novels-in-progress, and...well, I'm probably forgetting at least one more. But this latest addiction, to reading and watching and discussing the day's Presidential Election news, is a little different from the rest. For one thing, it's sucking up all my waking hours at a time when I have more time than usual to give to it - eight hours more, plus commute. For another, it's an addiction that's hitting thousands of Americans at the same time, if not millions.

Why is this? I think there are a number of factors involved:

1. This particular election is really, really important. With the economy tanking, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragging on and a huge public resentment building toward what the Bush administration has done to this country and the world, voters are aware that we need to elect someone who is capable of improving the situation. The course of future history over the next four years is in our hands, and we don't want to screw it up.

2. This election is personal. We're the ones who will suffer if we elect the wrong person. Maybe other people will suffer too, but for each of us there's an immediacy that wasn't there before. What about my job, my house, my health insurance, my 401(k)? These questions are more obviously and closely connected to who is elected than they've been in decades.

3. This election is historic. Unless something extraordinary happens in the next couple of weeks, we're about to elect this country's first African American President. He's already defeated a viable female presidential candidate in the primaries, and faces a Republican ticket that includes the country's second female vice presidential nominee. And all this is happening against a backdrop of the biggest economic upheaval in nearly 80 years.

4. This election is dramatic. Just look at the cast of characters, and the twists and turns in the ever-changing plot. We've got the guy with the funny name and unusual background, who defies all attempts at stereotyping with his level-headed, analytical unflappability, coupled with a sort of pragmatic idealism. We've got the old war hero, once respected by nearly everyone, but now a tragic victim of his hubris and other fatal flaws. There's the trusted mentor/sidekick, generally steady but occasionally good for a laugh. And there's the ingenue, a perky source of sexual interest and comic relief but with a dark streak of meanness and corruption that nearly outweighs her general cluelessness. We watch them all every day as they confront each other's endless accusations, revelations, prevarications and obfuscations, helped or hindered by a cast of thousands from political pundits to Joe the Plumber.

5. This election is information-rich. I probably read at least 30 screens full of brief tweets on Twitter today, 95% of them political, 75% of them containing links I followed to read dozens of news and commentary postings on everything from economic theory to the difference between ACORN's troubles and actual attempts at voter fraud. On top of that I'm getting a few dozen political emails a day. I'm almost glad I'm unemployed at the moment, because I'd never keep up otherwise.

Doctor Who was never this all-consuming. Then again, Doctor Who was never this crucial to the real-life future of the human race.


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