THE mediocrity of the presidential candidates has put Americans who still vote in a tough position. How do they justify their vote for either lackluster party hopeful with any convincing degree of enthusiasm? Their choices boil down to an obnoxious brainiac with a condescending air and a knack for “misspeaking” the truth, and a guy who would be way over his head leading the nation and directing foreign policy from the Oval Office. But if you can't kick the candidates of your party and you can't kick your dog, who can you kick to release steam over your lousy choice for president?
Be honest. If you plan to vote for either Al Gore or George Bush, you know their shortcomings. So what's an underwhelmed voter to do? When you pull the lever in November you rationalize that at least the other guy's worse, right? No way would you vote for some weenie Democrat or some meanie Republican. Instead of wholeheartedly defending your choice - because you can't - you'll either a) avoid discussions of presidential politics altogether, b) toss out your best Clinton-bashing lines if you're Republican, c) top fellow Democrats with the latest Bush gaffe, or d) stoop to personally attacking either Bush or Gore proponents for being Bush or Gore proponents.
The last option is often used against oh, say, writers who pen opinion columns expressing one political viewpoint or another or occasionally mixing them up just for fun. Rather than accept the not unreasonable premise that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and some are just lucky enough to get theirs in print, the attacker sees a contrary viewpoint as a wrong to be righted not with logic but dismissive ridicule.
Had to get that off my chest as one who pens opinion columns. Don't get me wrong. I welcome heated reaction, comments, even pointed questions from readers fired up enough to respond to what they read. But the venom seems to be flowing more than usual from those who in perhaps a less frustrating election year might at least agree to strongly disagree.
Yet as the party's standardbearers are nothing to write home about, the presidential campaign has become less about them and more about a broader battle of political philosophies. If you aren't especially inspired to rally around your party's candidate, you can still join core party voters in circling the wagons around single issues or embrace an all-or-nothing partisan posture.
It's called biting the bullet to win no matter who's leading the charge. Unions will vote Democratic regardless of Al Gore's support of the China Trade bill and NAFTA. Big business will vote Republican regardless of George W.'s personal track record of business failures. Pro-choice people will vote Democratic while pro-lifers will pick the GOP regardless of how soft or fluid the candidates' positions on abortion may be. Staunch conservatives or liberals have been remarkably willing to downplay their disagreements with their candidates, effectively muzzling the more strident voices in their midst on unresolved matters like abortion.
It can't be healthy for all that angst to stay bottled up for the sake of politics. It's also unhealthy for some Bush supporters to suggest they'll vote the Republican ticket not because they're enamored with George W. but because they hate all things Clinton or, worse, they liked George's dad. Democrats not overly impressed with Al Gore would rather demonize the GOP out of all sense of proportion and fair play than heap praise on their candidate.
Those who always vote the straight party ticket bother me, too. There is no point in debating the merits of any particular office seeker with those voters because their minds are closed to the campaign. They don't care how many times the esteemed vice president lies through his teeth to embellish his record or spice up his speeches. They don't care how many times a dumbfounded George W. stares blankly at an interviewer when a question is raised that hasn't been rehearsed.
After the primaries the voting public realized how dismal their choices were for president and abandoned any pretext of enthusiastically voting for someone. They'd vote instead for an ideal - whatever that might be - keep their fingers crossed, and hope for the best. Maybe that's why voters are so surly when defending their candidates in Y2K. They've stooped to name-calling against those who would challenge their political beliefs with gospel truths.
Thumping for (sigh) mediocrity in the presidential race has truly been a strain on partisan citizens stuck with two troublesome options. It shows in their futile attempts to save face.
Marilou Johanek is a Blade editorial writer. E-mail her at email@example.com.