A Campaign About Nothing?

Talk about “vapid.”

On “Morning Joe” today (click for link), the panelists sat around and complained about how little substance there is in this year’s presidential campaign.

“Am I the only one depressed here?” asks Joe. Then the other panelists groan and say yes, they, too, are depressed by this state of affairs. They of course have video clips to illustrate this sad state of affairs.  At about 4:08 in this segment, they show a half minute or so from Mitt Romney’s, and then Barack Obama’s stump speeches. Romney mocks Obama for defending Sesame Street characters, and Obama outlines the symptoms of “Romnesia.” Basically, they’re just sniping at each other with petty taunts. Pretty much standard fare in any political campaign, this year or any year.

From there, for the next 15 minutes or so, the “Morning Joe” panel talks about how unsubstantial the campaign is.

But those two clips are all they showed of the candidates talking. Now, I didn’t see the speeches in question, but I think we can be fairly sure that both men spent a great deal of time talking about matters of a great deal more importance than Big Bird.

And this kind of stuff goes on all the time, particularly on the cable news networks that have a lot of time to fill up during the day. They sit and complain about the lack of substance in the campaigns, but all they seem to talk about is the minutia. Tagg Romney wants to punch the president! Binders full of women! Donald Trump!

In fact, I think this has been one of the more substantive campaigns that we’ve seen in recent years. We’ve had four debates that have covered an awful lot of ground and delineated many differences between the candidates, and even if we think one candidate was better or more honest or more presidential than the other, we can at least agree they talked about a lot of important stuff.

But if you’re going to cherry-pick a minute of video to show the candidates at their worst, and then use that to push your “vapid campaign” talking point for the day, all I can say is, Joe, you’re missing a great story.

The Submission, by Amy Waldman

I’ve just finished reading The Submission, a novel by Amy Waldman. It was one of the most powerful books I’ve read lately.

It begins as a jury is picking the winner of an anonymous competition to design the memorial at Ground Zero in New York City. Primarily at the urging of one member—who had lost her husband in the September 11 attack—the jury settles on a garden design. However, when the name of architect who submitted the winning design is revealed, it turns out he’s Muslim. An American, yes, but also Muslim, and that revelation sends the jury—and the city and the nation—into a dizzying controversy that might have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.

Now, though, after the “mosque at Ground Zero” flap from 2010, it’s all too imaginable.  If you remember the sickening circus around that story, this book will be completely familiar to you. For a refresher, and if you have a strong stomach, check out this bit of bigoted garbage from two years ago.

(For my part—even though the proposed “mosque at Ground Zero” was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero—I think that Ground Zero would be a great place for a mosque. Right next to a temple and a Christian church. And hey, throw in a library, a bar and a gym: something for just about everybody, and let’s get over these silly divisions. But maybe that’s just me.)

Really, folks. There are billions of Muslims in the world. And 99.999 percent of them—an understatement, no doubt—are not focused on jihad against America. It’s only the crazies who hijack planes and fly them into buildings. And they do it because they’re crazy, not because they’re Muslims.

Anyway, Waldman brilliantly captures what can happen when you mix anti-Muslim paranoia with sensationalist tabloid media. I highly recommend this book.

Rescue At Sea

It was actually refreshing to read this story today, about the rescue of Abby Sunderland:

…The countries involved in the rescue effort have brushed off questions about the cost of the rescue and have no plans to seek recompense. Rescues at sea are a no-cost agreement under international conventions regarding maritime search and rescue operations.

“That’s not the way the law works,” Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters on the weekend. “The Australian taxpayer at the end of the day makes a contribution. But we have to put this in context. If there was an Australian lost at sea we would want … every effort to be made to save that person.”

In France, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told an online briefing that Abby’s rescue was an international obligation to help those in distress at sea….

Australia and France incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars to find and rescue the American teen, but neither country is complaining about the money. They recognize that under international maritime law, it is their responsibility to rescue mariners in distress, with the understanding that other countries will do the same in their regions.

But just think how the story would have played these days if the roles were reversed. Imagine that it was  the United States that had to spend a lot of money and send rescuers into harm’s way to save a teenager — from, let’s say, France —  trying to sail around the world by herself. Our media would go bonkers for days; there would be calls for the U.S. to withdraw from the United Nations and every international treaty we’ve ever signed. Pundits would file the episode away and resurrect (and embellish) it every few months for the next few decades.

But in Australia, it’s no big deal.