By Sam Freedman
Remember the 2011 GOP primary?
I do. And months later, I don't think I'm over it. I haven't forgiven the fact that among the Republican Party's prospective choices for their presidential candidate – most of whom actually led the polls at some point or another – was a pizza entrepreneur who quoted a song from the end credits of the Pokémon movie in his farewell speech. His campaign featured this ad.
Another popular contender for GOP candidacy was a certain Texas governor who made the witty declaration that "there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but your kids can't openly celebrate Christmas." Problem is, that wasn't wit. It was a piece of Rick Perry's self-professed dogma, proudly made public in an ad titled "Strong" that has received over 770,000 dislikes on YouTube.
We've had our fun, and it didn't stop at the primaries. We've shared some laughs, memes and media snippets. We rolled our eyes as Donald Trump, time and time again, requested this paper and that document from Obama's personal records in some vague attempt to cover up the fact that he's a politically useless asshole. We've traded Huffington Post articles detailing Mitt Romney's startling accumulation of gaffes; we've tuned into each presidential debate wondering if we'd find that Obama left his cojones on Air Force One. More recently, we rubbed our eyes in disbelief as Arkansas State Representative Jon Hubbard published a book explaining that slavery "was a blessing in disguise" for African-Americans.
I may sound frustrated by Republican gaffes, but I'm far more frustrated by the descent of national politics have turned into a recurrently unpleasant ordeal. Admittedly, I'm not the first to express such dissatisfaction. But like so many Americans my age, I'm disenchanted, and I think that's a pity.
I don't know what bothers me the most: the petty, low-as-gravel attack ads; the debates on equality and bodily rights that should've been dead a century ago; the striking resemblance of Republican primary candidates to grotesque, amoral cartoon characters. These people are in the running to lead our country. It's not funny. It's terrifying. No matter how many Herman Cain jokes we make, the man was on his way to winning the Republican nomination before he was accused of sexual assault. That seems to be the only way to dispatch a politician nowadays. When an entire generation of Americans is being raised on the trashiest politics imaginable, where's the hope for our nation's future? Where's the hope for our faith in government?
I'm frightened, guys. I'm frightened because the most rational thing I've seen this election season was a debate between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly. I'm frightened because one male politician after another is defending rape-produced pregnancies and confidently setting forth biologically inaccurate statements about the female body. Politics will always be a messy topic, but this isn't a mess; it's a disaster. And while I'm as opposed to Romney's victory as Romney and Ryan are to gays, I harbor no qualms about the reality that half the country disagrees with my political standing. I think it's great. It's the foundation of democracy. But all this absurdity, hyperbole, insanity: It's new, the product of the Internet age and the proliferation of extremism, and we can no longer pass it off as a joke.
When my generation takes over the sphere of American politics, I can only pray that we'll treat it with some degree of reverence. I believe in my heart of hearts that there's a way to hold an election without resorting to immaturity, and I'm convinced that a candidate really can lose an election without losing his/her dignity. Such self-sabotage makes for an amusing media spectacle. It also demeans our system of government. Thank the heavens for political cartoonists and Stephen Colbert, but their jobs have been made way too easy. I'd rather respect our politicians, regardless of party, than remain left with no means of comprehending them without a stunned, quiet chuckle.
By Yunita Ong
Excitement over the elections has been filling up Northwestern's campus like the aroma of the hot cookie bar straight out of the oven, but I'll admit it: I am not very moved. I didn't give give much thought to my professor's email updates about the presidential elections, even though, as a Medill student, I should be, and I sometimes find myself tuning out of conversations in class that turn to the elections.
The reason is simple: As a non-citizen, I don't have a vote. But I do feel some guilt about not always keeping updated on the state of the election battlefield. After all, the United States is the world's dominant powerhouse. Whatever happens come Tuesday will send ripples beyond the Atlantic and the Pacific. However, it is difficult for me to understand even the most fundamental principles of US politics, as my country's government (Singapore) is modeled after the British parliamentary system. When my classmates discuss the finest intricacies of Romney's tax plan heatedly, I find myself resisting the urge to blurt out, "Wait, someone please remind me again – what does the Senate do?"
It's undeniable that people are watching the election outcome Tuesday from foreign shores with some interest. "People like my dad and some politicians in China understand the elections pretty well, perhaps even better than most Americans, because it affects how much money they will get everyday," said Weinberg freshman Leo Hu, who comes from Shanghai.
For the masses, interest in the politics is more muted. "Most people will probably watch closely around election day to know who won, then absorb that information and move on with their lives," said Communication freshman Adam Pečeňa, who hails from the Czech Republic. "It's not make-or-break, but not ignored either. People realize that the leader of the planet for the four years to come is being elected."
People overseas are curious about the elections, but based on my own experience, many people still don't know very much about the election beyond the basics. "The average man on the street in Singapore is probably not very well informed," fellow Singaporean and Weinberg freshman Chen Ming Cheong said. "They would know just the few candidates and that's about it. They might not even know the running partners, let alone any proposed economic policies."
Because of this, I feel that many people outside the United States tend to make snap judgments based on appearances rather than any real understanding of politics. The reputation Obama built up during the last election as a relatively young, biracial candidate seeking hope and change still goes strong for people in some quarters of the world. He is so emblamatic of the United States for my father who practically checked out a whole shelf of Obama souvenirs while he was here, and I suspect that it has affected his views on the election: He prefers an Obama victory, but can't really justify this preference other than for the reason that he doesn't really know about Romney.
Another barrier to understanding this election is the deluge of news I get through social media. I have to check out what's going on at home, in the United States and everywhere else in the world, and still get my daily dose of Facebook-stalking. It all results in a very superficial understanding of the election. I check out Huffington Post articles, roll my eyes at Jim Lehrer and snicker at those binders full of women. I watched the national conventions, I know taxation and healthcare are hot topics this election, but I couldn't tell you more in greater detail. I judge the elections based on benchmarks like gay and women's issues, which are more relatable to someone who is pretty unfamiliar with the way politics are in the United States. These are important issues, but I know they don't paint the entire picture of what's at stake for America.
That being said, being in a school like Northwestern has helped some international Wildcats understand what is going on. "My major sources of knowledge about the election come from events held in school like debates and live screenings of presidential debates," said Cheong. "I attended some informal lectures about economic aspects of Obama's plan. I am not exactly 100 percent sure about what's going on in the various states, but I get my knowledge of Obama's economic plan and Romney's general direction in his foreign policy through the presidential debates."
"It's really interesting to observe political developments during the campaign," Weinberg sophomore Yang Xu said. "News on the elections are all over the place, and you can't really get away from it."
While Weinberg freshman Rushil Mohan admitted that he was not concerned about domestic issues like taxation since he does not have to pay taxes to the United States, as an Indian national, he said, "I will be spending the next four years in this country which is effectively the next president's term so it would be interesting to know at least who is running the country."
I want to, as well. I hope that I'll get a clearer picture by Election Day, when I'll be watching the election outcome on television in McTrib with my American classmates.
By Christian Holub
For me, Twitter IS the presidential election. Tweets are how I receive information about Romney's latest gaffe and data on the latest polls of that super-important colony of undecided voters that is apparently located out in the Ohio boonies somewhere. When I watch the presidential debates, I devote 30 percent of my attention to the debate and 70 percent to furiously checking Twitter. What does that mean? Has Andrew Sullivan's head exploded yet?? WHAT'S THE NEW MEME ACCOUNT??
When I'm in a joking mood, or I'm explaining to one of the few remaining skeptics how awesome Twitter is, I'll usually say, "if it weren't for Twitter I wouldn't know Osama Bin Laden was dead." That is not only a true statement; it's even truer now than it was a year and a half ago. These days, if it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn't know who Mitt Romney was.
So it may come as a surprise that, despite all the Ezra Klein and Nate Silver nuggets of brilliance I am exposed to on an hourly basis, I continue to think the following is the most brilliant and helpful tweet of the 2012 presidential election:
"Ha ha ha! Terrific!" - Mitt Romney, every time Jar Jar Binks appears on screen— rob delaney (@robdelaney) June 5, 2012
The perpetrator of that Tweet, Rob Delaney, is a comedian. I guess you could call him "famous," but if he is, it's only because of his Twitter account, a rambling stream of anti-humor, poop jokes, and insults of Wal-Mart, forever fronted by a hairy naked man in a Speedo. He does stand-up, and it's okay, but it doesn't hold a candle to contemporary masters of the form like Louis CK or Patton Oswalt. His Twitter is so much funnier than his stand-up could ever be, because he was among the first to realize that anti-humor and impossible sentences translate so much better to the 140-word format than to real life. The result is a Dadaist masterpiece.
I won't go on explaining why tweets like this are funny, partly because they're so ridiculous they defy logic, but also because explicating humor is the best way to kill it ("if you try and take apart a cat to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat"), and I want to keep Delaney's Twitter as funny as possible. Unfortunately, it needs a lot of help these days.
Delaney's Twitter has provided the greatest mirror for the election and its surrounding emotional narratives. Because of modern America's second-to-second media cycle, it's very easy to forget how absurd the election and its candidates were one year ago. But even after Herman Cain and the Ricks faded from prominence, there was still a generous amount of room for caricatures and ridicule (you may remember this article that explained the "Uncanny Valley" theory of robotics using Mitt Romney). As summer went on and Obama maintained a sizeable lead, it became easy and enjoyable to characterize Romney as a ridiculously rich, out-of-touch robot willing to say or believe anything if it meant becoming president. Enter that aforementioned tweet about Jar Jar Binks.
But then came the debates, where both candidates sacrificed everything interesting about themselves in a desperate claim for moderate swing voters. As the story of election 2012 descended into boring monotony broken only by occasional fake Twitter accounts, Delaney's Twitter has also lost much of its irreverent, nonsensical joy. Now his Tweets are active, humorless encouragements encouraging people to vote for Obama. He even wrote a post for the "90 Days, 90 Reasons" Tumblr, explaining his main reason for voting. Once again, every word was spelled correctly, and there was a distinct lack of references to his penis.
Something that's obvious to absolutely everyone: This election is much less cool than 2008. There are no sexy, messianic narratives here, nor are there diabolical super-villains like Michele Bachmann or Karl Rove. This election is so bizarrely close that both candidates are brazenly gunning for a small number of swing state voters, and as a result are both trying to come off more moderate than they really are, especially in those debates. Everyone made a big deal about Romney "beating" Obama in that first debate, but really, all he did was seem less boring than Obama. By the third debate, I couldn't tell the difference between the two policy-wise, except that Obama was more hilariously douchey. BORING. This campaign has been the equivalent of a grind-it-out basketball game, where teams just bang the boards and make traditional shots rather than high-flying dunks.
Something else that everybody already knows: Rob Delaney has the right to say whatever he wants to say on the Internet. He's not under some sort of artistic obligation to be a satirist all the time. But for a while there, his insane Twitter humor was the only thing making this election entertaining. Now that's gone too, leaving us once again in a haze of boring political ambivalence. I can't wait for it to be over already.