The electoral drama is so refreshing! After two years of war, war, war, and of homemade monsters like Scott Peterson and the depressing scandals of celebrities, we are finally treated by our media to a window into something that truly matters to most people. The unfolding primaries have a bracing effect beyond the words and images and candidates rolling up their sleeves (to their detriment sometimes, see Howard Dean) and getting down to the business of finding out just what hurts and concerns us.
The candidates are rediscovering the vast energy of our huge republic and the vigorous diversity of real people thinking about real things. We seem to be waking up from a long hypnotic sleep induced in part by the media and in an even greater part by the manipulations of an administration bent on keeping us paranoid, fearful and contained. The State of the Union address was a perfect illustration of just how out of touch the Bushies are: there wafted from it a desperate and pathetic stubbornness in the face of facts. The rhetoric that held us captive, weapons of mass destruction, terrorists within and without, vigilance, surveillance, the Patriot Act, etc., etc., suddenly lost their luster. That entire discourse with its police-state undergirding seemed instantly obsolete.
The primaries are uncovering what the media and the administration have been unable to grasp, namely that Americans are an immensely diverse people who won't stay put. We like to move, experiment, exercise political muscle, make local issues national, and say screw it when we are told we can't do this or that. We are multitudes, as Walt Whitman put it, and you can scare us for a while into thinking that we are small and must be protected, but it won't work for long. It's a big country, and we think a lot of things you don't see on TV.
The media has to take a lot of blame for playing the game of fear and containment. The hysterical delivery of every item as if it were vitally important makes for the illusion that faux emergencies and scandal are somehow common to all, that we are all gathered in a small room like sheep waiting for the slaughter, or for the next color code. The primaries are giving the lie to that reality: For all the whining and complaining about the passivity of voters, Americans become very good citizens when they get off the couch.
The America of huge energetic initiative and action that Alexis de Tocqueville found here at the beginning of our democracy comes into ferocious play when people realize that they've been conned. Americans have great reserves of goodwill and (too much) trust in their leaders, but they are not suckers. The electoral season is going to be fascinating, and it ought to scare all the extremes, right and left, national or international, because we are witnessing the rebirth of American intelligence. Never mind the Cassandras, this is indeed the most productive and creative country in the world; when even a small portion of our wealth-producing intelligence applies itself to the political process, the ideologues better get out of town.