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Charlie Hatton
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Impoliticly Political

I’ve made a grave mistake. I’ve paid attention to televised politics in an election year, nine months before the actual election.

Sweet stump-speechin’ jeebus.

See, politics to me is a lot like the Olympics. It rolls around every four years — or two, I guess, if you’re into “both kinds”. It allows a lot of people to dress up in patriotic hats and lapel pins and wave flags of various sorts, and yell things about their country to no one in particular. The media covers events relentlessly, and there are news reports and commercials and possibly Wheaties boxes — are there still Wheaties boxes? I bet there are still Wheaties boxes — when it’s all said and done.

“It allows a lot of people to dress up in patriotic hats and lapel pins and wave flags of various sorts, and yell things about their country to no one in particular.”

A lot of people get really into these things. Like, seriously invested. Which I understand if, say, your kid or your mom is skiing the biathlon or running for Lieutenant Legislator or whatever. But otherwise, it seems like kind of a spectacle. Really, an awful lot of spectacle.

I’m okay with that. Spectacle is fun to watch. If no one watched, it wouldn’t be called “spectacle”. They’d call it, I dunno, “CSPAN” or something. And some people — even the ones who aren’t so personally invested — seem to really love it. Spectacle sells, I gather. With all the reality shows and Mad Max: Ice Road Warriors and the Real Housewives of Orange Julius going on, shiny shouty stuff like the Olympics and politics sort of slide right in. Actually, they’ve got most of the same sponsors, I think.

So some people have a high capacity for spectacle. That’s great, because there’s a hell of a lot out there. Me, I like just a little spectacle. I like tuning in for bobsledding trials at two in the morning, when three guys and a stand-in mannequin from the Ivory Coast are doing their run, while the diehard fans toot their vuvuzelas and shout and chew at their frostbitten fingers. Or synchronized leotard wiggling, or whatever it’s called. It’s wacky. Nobody’s watching at home. Relatives and host-nation fans and three tourists from Albania are in the stands, taking turns going ape-shit nuts. It’s great.

Politics is totally the same for me. It’s the same situation, really. A bunch of people who have worked a long time to get right where they’re at, but they’ve never done quite this before, and they’re not really sure how to go about it. But! They can’t be wrong, ever, or make a mistake or show weakness or go off message or even acknowledge the intense pressure to do all those things, while making it look like doing any of those things comes at all naturally to human beings. Or for that matter, to politicians.

Of course, the fascination in watching is a little different. Olympic athletes, you wonder how they can do those amazing things. Swim so fast, skate so hard, vault so pole, et cetera. It’s like they bend reality to include perfect feats of strength, speed and grace. With politicians, the astonishing thing is spin. They’re not moving heaven, earth or curling stones to change reality; they just talk at it, until in some peoples’ heads, reality alters itself. That’s their job. This guy didn’t lose, and that lady never said that thing. Those numbers aren’t accurate, and these questions aren’t the ones we agreed on.

The Olympics is a series of events where a gaggle of people compete to create a reality in which one of them has won and gets a shiny new medal. Politics is a series of events where a gaggle of people compete to create a reality in which one of them has always won everything ever and never been wrong and never will be, and gets a shiny new office. I’m not sure that’s “better”, by any imaginative stretch. But it’s certainly more spectacle-y.

Thing is, I fill up on spectacle fast. The commercials are plenty enough reality TV for me, and I’m good for maybe a week of the Olympics before I’ve had enough drama and struggle and nation-name chanting for a while. Same with politics. Usually, I just show up for the pretty maps and a couple of balloon drops. A couple of days in, the smarm is simply suffocating, and every speech sounds like the teacher from Peanuts droning a duet with a laryngitic bald eagle.

Which is fine, because I usually start paying attention about a week before the election. That’s a sane time frame, if you ask me. Even the Olympics have the good sense to only meander on for two weeks at a time.

But this year, I’ve fouled it all up. There’s arguably more “spectacle” this electo-season than usual, and I couldn’t help but sneak a peek. I watched a couple of debates. I saw a parade of maniacally-upbeat clowns on CNN break down some of the things other people had just said, but mostly each other, since they each seem to have a favorite horse in the race. And the spin. Good lord, the spin. Like being strapped inside a washing machine for three hours.

And I’m good. I’ve filled up. My political spectacle-o-meter dinged today, and that’s all I need for another four years. (Or two. Do the midterms have the gymnastics? I always forget.)

And that’s a problem. The election’s still nine months away. There’s a huge gap on the calendar until there won’t be an election to talk about, and that’s all anyone’s going to do until November. I’m all spectacle’d out — and the spectacle is just getting started. I just wanted to dip in a toe, but it’s an Olympic pool full of spin and stump and shouting, and there’s no shallow end. Or ladder to get out. And I’m pretty sure some of these people are peeing in here.

Meh. The Olympics start in six months. Either that’ll help, or I’ll be in a padded room by mid-August. Spectacle-ular.

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