Election year lull

By Erik Jay
web posted May 8, 2000

You could have gotten the facts and figures on the February and March primary election results in a few thousand newspapers, magazines, web sites, TV shows, and radio news broadcasts. And you could have checked in with scores of pundits for scores of interpretations; there are so many that, with the same skills you would employ for online shopping, you could search, seek, or sniff out an election analysis that fits your views to a "t" in no time flat.

But right here, right now, I'm going to give you straight, with no chaser, Erik Jay's arched-eyebrow take on what the heck happened here on the Left Coast during primary season. And why we shouldn't waste too much time on it.

The last time I reported on Campaign/DamnPain 2000, it was about primary election results, when I uploaded my column to my various Internet megaphones and blared my wise and insightful interpretation of the results -- all 3 per cent of them. Because a few details (not many but enough) changed as the vote totals rose, my report had a less-than-a-day life span, brief even measured by Internet time. I figured it would be best all around this time if I waited a while to file my Super Tuesday analysis.

So I gave it a couple of months.

Okay, so what did we learn in the first few months of the year out here in California? As far as the presidential race is concerned, here's what you can find out anywhere: Bush beat McCain here soundly, Alan Keyes pulled his usual single-digits, and "Dollar Bill" Bradley got seriously Gored and exited the race. If you want the numbers, they're just a click or two away on the net.

But, frankly, there were more interesting things on the state and local ballots anyway, and that's where we're headed for a few selected highlights:

1. Proposition 22 -- "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the State of California" -- passed comfortably.

2. Two initiatives dear to the heart of trial lawyers -- 30 and 31, essentially allowing uninsured motorists to find deep pockets to sue -- went down to defeat.

3. Prop. 1A, allowing Indian casino gambling and a slew of other lotteries and games, passed after a similar successful initiative in 1998 was invalidated by the courts.

4. Proposition 26 passed, allowing non-property owners to install administrative mechanisms for possible future property-tax increases.

5. An attempt to roll back the additional 50-cents-per-pack cigarette tax was defeated.

There were other propositions, local and state candidates, judgeships, and so on -- but the strangely schizophrenic nature of California voters is perfectly exemplified by the examples at hand.

For instance, the success in California of the marriage-definition proposition, a staple of the Christian-right agenda across the country, might suggest to a Right Coast liberal that California is the veritable home of homophobia; extrapolating from this one result, social conservatives might conclude that other parts of their agenda would fare well, as well.

They'd be wrong. This is California.

Perhaps a few weeks of mulling and polling and calculating would provide some analyses or conclusions that would play well in the pages of the peer-reviewed sociology journals. But the answer is much simpler than you might think, and I already gave it to you.

This is California. We just don't live, eat, act, or vote with consistency out here.

And now, two months after the March 7 Super Tuesday show, California is a political dust bowl. There is no substantive political debate, no earthshaking grassroots activity, no excitement of any kind. We are in the Election Year Lull.

That's the time between the appearance of the undisputed front runners (Super Tuesday) and the nominating conventions (late summer), and it happens in every presidential election year. This is not to say that the drone and proles and hirelings of the two institutional parties aren't out on the fried chicken and TV talk-show circuits, or that no political ads are running, or that there isn't the usual blather in the establishment media about this issue or that possible running-mate or the not-to-be-taken-for-granted "alternatively abled" vote.

It does mean that the only people interested right now in the presidential election are political junkies and politicians. For the man and woman on the street, this is The Lull. And a perfect time to reflect on the relative importance of (a) presidential elections, and (b) politics in general.

I've said before that voting is not the most important right in the free person's arsenal; the scores of other daily votes that we cast -- for this store, that book, this TV show, that commentator, this product, the other idea -- are much more important. Presidential elections are primarily spectacle, mostly smoke with little flame, and almost no light. And it my be that your life wouldn't change that drastically no matter how the election turns out.

And most people have more going on in their lives than politics. In fact, almost everything in daily life is more important than national politics, at least the way it's handled by the media. Rather than listen to city councils debate parking fees, or county supervisors discuss their pensions, most folks would rather get on with the shopping, taking the kids to the dentist, cooking dinner, or almost anything else.

Face it, dear reader: If you're reading this, you're a member of several endangered species: you're a reader, and you're probably not a Kennedy liberal. But I'll bet there's more to your life than reading proposed legislation or collecting ballot signatures. Lots more, probably.

Frankly, I wish we could take The Lull all the way to November, keeping our minds and hearts and energies on the positive, productive things we do as day-to-day citizens, like raising families, creating new wealth, helping others, witnessing our faith (whatever it is), living a full and well-rounded life. Then we could put on our political duds for one day, vote for a new president and a few others, and go back to Real Life again.

There, I've tied it all together for you. That break in the political action that I call The Lull is actually Real Life, waiting to be lived. Remember: The trick is to live life and take a break to vote once in a while, not the other way around.

Erik Jay is editor of "What Next? The Internet Journal of Contentious Persiflage" which you can subscribe to by visiting http://erikjay.com.

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