A campaign junkie shows signs of impending withdrawal

November 02, 2008|By JEAN MARBELLA | JEAN MARBELLA,jean.marbella@baltsun.com

Look, over there, you can see it from here!

No, not Russia from Alaska, but the finish line.

It's hard to believe not just that the end of the presidential campaign season is actually in sight, but that we're all going to have to find something else to do come Wednesday.

In the spirit of those who have jumped the gun and published their postmortems - or pre-mortems, actually - on a race that won't be decided until Tuesday, I'm already feeling nostalgic for the campaign. Somehow, it managed to capture the worst of both a marathon (the length) and cage fighting (the bare knuckles), and still, I'm reluctant to let it go.

I know I should decry its ungodly length and the endless amounts of time, money, patience and goodwill it has exacted from us. Did you know that in even less time than Sarah Palin has been the Republican vice presidential nominee, the Canadian government dissolved its parliament and voters elected a whole new one?

Do they not have the Internet in Canada? No debates or town halls or rallies or YouTube or Rachel Maddow of their own? When did the candidates find time to make gaffes, recover, exploit their opponents' unsavory associations, be found to have associated with same or, of course, shop for a whole new campaign wardrobe? How ever did the voters make up their minds without chewing through all that? I for one, could spend the rest of the year wallowing in campaignalia. There's just so much of it - 90 percent junk, but, oh, that delightful 10 percent - and I fear I'll go to the polling place on Tuesday not having every last word from Joe the Aspiring Country Singer or whatever Obama relative has emerged in Boston or Kenya.

This, though, apparently is a minority view. Even professional political junkies appear to be crying uncle at this point. To which I say: Wimps!

"The tension of just waiting for the outcome just wears on you," retired Hopkins political scientist prof Matthew Crenson sighed when I called him on Friday. "I click on Real Clear Politics, FiveThirtyEight, Pew, like several times a day. It hasn't been good for me. I've had more productive times."

"It's enough," echoed Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia pundit who has proposed an April-to-November campaign. He fondly recalls the time he lived in Great Britain, where campaigns last weeks rather than years, and democracy didn't crumble under such pressurized decision-making.

Still, methinks the gentlemen doth protest too much. Both noted the excitement the race has generated, especially among those who usually tune politics out.

"The amazing story in Maryland is, in spite of the fact there is scarcely a question of the outcome, people still are registering to vote," Crenson said. "This is an election people want to participate in."

"It's an extraordinary year," Sabato said. "First of all, people hate Bush, and you have the concern over the wars and the state of the economy. And then you have these fascinating candidates.

"This was truly a Broadway production," he said. "And we've had some off-off-Broadway ones."

As closing night approaches and - if the pundits are right - the mystery of the ending continues to fade, I've turned my attention elsewhere. Forget Obama and McCain, I worry about the fate of Nate Silver (of FiveThirtyEight fame), or Margaret and Helen.

Oh, you don't know the bloggers (well, it's mostly Helen who posts), who would be just another couple of potty-mouthed Internet blabbers except for the fact that they're 80-something women? (Unless, of course, they're two - or one or 10 - conceptual artists in downtown Manhattan; as the New Yorker cartoon noted, on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog.)

I worry they'll all vanish, Brigadoon-like, after the election. I worry that they'll go back to whatever life they had before the campaign, and I'll go back to - what? E-mails from Nigerians with 50,000,000,000,000,000 dollars (U.S.) that they want to share with dearest madame me? A, frankly, not-up-to-par season of Dancing With The Stars? The dishes in the sink?

But mostly, I worry that people will forget to, you know, vote. Not just follow the campaign online, or laugh at the viral videos, or stew about what's going on in those other, swingier states.

Yet another factoid I discovered en route to something else: Guess where the U.S. ranks, out of 172 countries, in voter turnout? After Italy (No. 1), after South Africa (No. 10), after even those laid-back Jamaicans (No. 118). According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organization that promotes democracy, we're all the way down at 139.

So you might not get your pick on Tuesday, but surely you can do something about that, right?

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