It’s March in America, and if you are any kind of average citizen in this plugged-in, un-buckled, vegged-out nation, you’ve been soothing your winter malaise with a tsunami of television watching. You might even be seeking a little insight into the human experience, tuning into HBO and Showtime for their critically lauded helpings of suspense, hard-to-watch sex, and pathos.
Distilled to their essence, elections turn on the rigidity of numbers, concrete and comforting, imposed onto the chaos of human opinion. We stew when they do not go our way, but in these matters, majorities rule, minorities shout, and votes rarely occur without the employment of cajoling and cunning by candidates.
Whatever your political leanings may be, you have to sympathize with the Bush family today as a sentient being existing in the Internet age after a hacker leaked a ream of their correspondence to The Smoking Gun. You probably share too much personal information over e-mail (can I get an amen, Davey P.?) and God knows that G-chat holds enough secrets to end half the relationships in the United States (that’s a conservative estimate).
As a collective unit, Americans are pretty keen on the civics-class idea that life in the 6,106,012 square miles of God’s green earth that is the USA is more or less equitable for the 313,847,465 people who have hunkered down to live on the craggy coasts, fruited plains, and purple mountains filled with majesty. We’ve got proportional representation in Congress, a legal system that presumes innocence before guilt, and the ability to walk into any 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee and slice of pizza that will cost you $4 and a year of your life, which has to say something about the level playing field we’ve got going, right?
Stepping into the lobby of the Kaufman Cultural Center in New York City on a recent balmy fall evening was a bit like entering a cocktail-party scene from a Nora Ephron romantic comedy of the late 1990s. A crowd—mostly middle-aged and black-clad, many of its members looking like competitors in a glasses fashion show—milled around the bar, sizing itself up over short-stumped stemware. A man sporting a graying ponytail explained to a woman with a platinum bob the importance of the next president’s Supreme Court appointments. Two guys in navy sport coats sipped $7 brews in companionable silence. The buzz in the room, both conversational and alcoholic, was palpable. Then the lights dimmed, and there was a rush toward the theater doors. The latest taping of Intelligence Squared U.S., the debate series that has become something of a cult podcast hit on iTunes, was about to begin.