Monday, October 1, 2012

Tuning in and out of the presidential race

Among the many benefits of living in San Miguel is its foreigness, its physical separation from the U.S., despite the several thousand American expats who live here. Whether by car or plane, the U.S. and its rancorous political wars, are about ten hours away.

That insulation is not hermetic. There is satellite television and radio, the Internet, the weekly dump of magazines from The Other Side--as Mexicans often refer to the U.S.--plus the dinner party chatter which now invariably revolves around the presidential election.

If you're a Democrat, it's all friendly chatter, and you tend to assume there must not be any Republicans in San Miguel although I know one. Republicans probably have their own dinner parties to which we're not invited.

News from the Blonde Team
But following the elections, and all the attending blather, is optional. You can keep your TV tuned to cooking and travel shows, reruns and nature shows and skip CNN, MSNBC, network news and Fox News. Definitely Fox News.

Occasionally you can dip your beak into the news pool, get a sip--who's ahead?--and skip the rest. And yes, be sure to drop your absentee ballot at our one-man U.S. consulate and then vamoose from the rest of the political racket.

I, on the other hand, wake up swearing to wean myself off from political news, commentators and speculators but never succeed. It's a fierce addiction.

Part of the attraction is sheer entertainment. Take the Republican primary carnival: Even Ringling Bros. couldn't round up a more colorful parade of clowns. At the end, the GOP picked Romney apparently because he was the least ridiculous of the bunch. Except he turns out to be a hollow, mannequin figure with no concrete ideology except to endorse whatever it takes to maintain his candidacy afloat.

His selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate--the boy genius of the House of Representatives--was supposed to be a master stroke. Ryan was presented as a fiscal wizard with a satchel-full of solutions for the federal budgetary morass. Except he either doesn't have any solutions or is unable to explain them to the rest of us tax-paying schlemiels.

I find the quadrennial political spectacle not only fascinating--its protagonists, the zigzags in positions, the occasional revelations and possible surprises--but ultimately useful.

Indeed, the American system, even with its huge wastefulness of time and money, and endless gasbaggery and machinations, works pretty well if not necessarily picking the most capable candidate at least capturing the fractious will of the electorate. (Alright, there was the 2000 election when the Supremes stepped in and preempted the opinion of the majority. No system is perfect.)

The primary contests run forever, but I'd rather have a drawn-out process, and intense scrutiny of the candidates, than the rabbit-out-the-hat method used by so many other countries.

For fifty-four years Cubans have been presented with the choice of the same bearded rabbit. Recently they traded the usual old rabbit for his slightly younger brother, but Cubans are still stuck with a bearded rabbit.

In Mexico, even after recent reforms, the parties anoint their candidates through an opaque hocus-pocus that looks more like a papal conclave than a democratic contest.

Consider that if the recent Republican primary had been sealed and delivered in only two or three weeks, we could have been saddled with whomever was ahead at that point.

It might have been the affable pizza mogul with an eye for the ladies or the born-again Torquemada still grappling with the morality of contraception. Or perhaps Strangelove Newt, musing about travel to Mars or Cowboy Perry who couldn't remember exactly which federal agencies he wanted to eliminate, much less talk about space exploration. Or the perpetually startled-looking congresswoman from Minnesota who got the birthplace of John Wayne the cowboy mixed up with that of John Wayne Gacy the Chicago serial killer.

So after a tedious process that involved umpteen debates, the Republicans picked Romney, the guy who once went on vacation with the family dog in a crate tied to the roof of the car. Dull but safe (though not for the dog).

Brothers and sisters, it could have been much, much worse.

A month before the general election most Americans may be fed up with the interminable presidential campaign and the almost daily opinion polls, but not me.

Another secret video could appear to finally knock out Romney's campaign. Or the principal of a hard-core madrassa in Indonesia might reveal that a young Barack could indeed recite the Koran from memory. That'll give the blonde news attack team at Fox something to cackle about until Nov. 6.

From the relative isolation and safety of San Miguel I can watch it all, or turn off the dial when it becomes too much even for me. For now, I'm staying tuned.

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