As one of many people who followed the 2008 election with great interest, one of my clearest memories is of the intense feeling of fatigue that I felt during the last month of the general election period. By October of that year the outcome was a foregone conclusion and we all stared at the calendar like middle school kids stare at clocks, willing it to go faster. There was a point at which I couldn't stomach another analysis of some hypothetical Electoral College scenario, ridiculous campaign commercial, cringe-inducing McCain event, or lingering worry that Sarah Palin would ever be put in charge of something more important than a tank of goldfish. The ebb and flow of the election was interesting for a while but then I just wanted to get the goddamn thing over with. Enough.
This year is going to be different. It promises to be far worse. I want the election over already and it's not even March. I want it over yesterday. Rather than simply chalking this up to Ed being a grumpy old asshole, I have two specific reasons that this is going to be an unbearable form of torture.
First, the GOP's four year long effort to tank the economy hasn't worked well enough to fit their preferred election year narrative that the country is on the brink of complete collapse (see Mitch Daniels' apocalyptic State of the Union response) and only doubling down on Republican economic policies can save it. While the economic situation is not a cause for great celebration, by any metric it is improving (albeit painfully slowly). Most importantly, perceptions of the economy are improving. With the "OMG we're ruined! Ruined!" narrative unworkable and the GOP's savior in 2010, the Teabaggers, nowhere to be found, the party is going to turn 2012 into an endless parade of 1980s-style Culture Wars bullshit. They've spent the past two weeks crusading against birth control. Some nitwit labeled the Girl Scouts a radical group on Monday. We'll get a healthy dose of anti-gay marriage stuff before long, and the GOP House will undoubtedly hatch some dead-on-arrival legislation related to abortion over the summer. Who knows what other Falwell-esque gems they might dust off. School prayer? Creationism? Heliocentrism? Only time will tell. But the Planned Parenthood/contraception fiasco is but a preview. We have nine solid months of these pointless, dead-end spectacles ahead of us. None of it will accomplish anything except to be excruciating to sit through.
2. Back when the decision was handed down, I wrote that we would all live to regret Citizens United for reasons that have nothing to do with questions of fairness or buying elections. We will regret it because it will turn our elections into tsunami of slime that will put previous notions of "mudslinging" to shame. Massive, wealthy organizations beyond the control of any candidate or campaign will be spending billions on advertising and other forms of advocacy, and every cent of it is going to pay for toxic sludge. It will spread misinformation and engage in character assassination on a level that will make the Swift Boaters look amateurish and kindly. Thanks to the Supreme Court, anyone can spend any amount of money trying to influence the election…and they can say whatever they want. It doesn't have to be remotely true or relevant or grounded in reality. It just has to be paid for.
Taking these two factors collectively, today I feel like the candidates are just beginning a swim through a ten mile long trench filled with liquefied human waste, broken glass, and salt. Anyone with enough money to buy a special ticket gets to douse the swimmers with buckets of bloody vomit every ten feet for the duration. Occasionally the media will jump on their backs and dunk their heads beneath the surface to keep the audience on edge. There is no comfort to be taken from the fact that only Obama and (insert GOP nominee here) actually have to swim through it. Watching the spectacle unfold will be its own unique kind of torture.