It is strange to think back to this time in 2008. I was at a political science convention in Boston just prior to the Republican convention, and it's difficult to describe how much the conference of 7,000 political scientists (normally a shockingly apolitical crowd – something about mixing business and pleasure) was buzzing about the election. It makes sense, as Labor Day and the conventions are the official kickoff of the general election phase of the campaigns. As reflected in the high (for Americans) rate of voter turnout, the level of interest in the 2008 election was both measurably and qualitatively high. People were interested in it. It was exciting.

It is an understatement to point out that the same dynamic is not present in 2012. This presidential election is shaping up as a re-do of 1996: two candidates no one really likes fighting not only to win your vote but also to make you feel like voting at all. The bloom is entirely off the Obama rose – too many broken promises, too much pandering to the right and "moderates", not enough firm resolve until re-election season grew near – and we could spend hours cataloging Romney's problems winning the interest and enthusiasm of his fellow Republicans. Turnout will almost certainly fall, and all of the signs of a pair of candidates desperate to get you to give one or more shits about this election are plain to see.

By now you have probably seen the smug news item about how "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" beat the GOP convention in TV ratings last Wednesday. That might be amusing, but the much more important statistic is that overall viewership of the convention was down a staggering 30-40% from 2008 – and remember that Republican enthusiasm for the nominee was not exactly in the stratosphere back then either. I'd caution everyone not to spend too much time guffawing at the poor ratings received by Romney and Friends; this week's convention may not do much better. How many people could honestly expect to hear anything new from Obama at this point? What audience the conventions do attract at this point is most likely drawn from the Preaching to the Converted pile.

It is possible that I am projecting my own considerable ambivalence and malaise toward this election, although I'm fairly certain that it has some basis in reality. An incumbent with a 45% approval rating is being challenged by a Massachusetts Mormon with no definable position on any major issues. This feels like an election to be tolerated, endured, or trudged through. Even the most zealous partisans appear to be drawing their enthusiasm mostly from hatred of The Other Guy rather than genuine fondness for their own candidate.

There are many problems with the idea that Obama won in 2008 because of a surge of new young and/or minority voters, principally the fact that Obama won every single demographic except white males over 40. While participation among young, black, or Latino voters did rise, he succeeded because he convinced a lot of the people who always vote to vote for him. You don't win Indiana as a Democrat simply by turning out a few more college kids. This is relevant because lower turnout won't necessarily imply bad news for Obama. Instead his problem is that the white lower-class voters that he managed to win in 2008 appear to have gone Full Teabag since then and they're unlikely to support him again.

Attempts at analysis aside, the most outstanding feature of this election so far seems to be how little attention we are paying to it as an electorate. My personal feelings are much closer to "Let's just get this goddamn thing over with" than any genuine curiosity or excitement about the outcome. The faithful of the respective parties are already decided. Undecideds are few and uncertain to the extent that they dislike both candidates. Sprinkle this whole mess with millions (billions?) pf SuperPac dollars that will be blown on annoying, sub-moronic advertising and you've got yourself a fine recipe for a campaign we will all be doing our damnedest to ignore while the candidates and media go through the motions.

(PS: Surely I have matured beyond recognition; I changed the original title, "Scaling Mount Who-Gives-a-Shit")

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  1. Fiddlin' Bill Says:

    TBogg on the subject at hand:

    The Republicans, in Jan. '09, came up with a fairly successful strategy aimed at thwarting a cautious, reasonable, moderate new Democratic President. Their plan was of course essentially treasonous, but that word's been entirely removed from ordinary speech anyways. The Republicans, and their very powerful media apparatus, are still riding the wave, see. e.g., the last minute and strictly speaking unparliamentary revisions to the Democratic Platform. If Obama does manage a win, expect more and endless dissembling and footdragging and worse from a Republican held Congress. On the fucking other hand, if the Republicans, who are now ChristoFascists, win, expect fewer and worse jobs into the future, expect a repeal of a small chance to repair the broken health care delivery system, expect a continuation of our commitment to fossil fuels for ever and ever, expect a continuation of the very real war on women, and lastly, expect a absolutely devastating war on Iran.

  2. Anonymouse Says:

    Fiddlin' Bill: "treasonous" has been redefined to mean, "a group of teenage girl singers say they don't like a Republican", which is apparently punishable by death threats. Alternately, "treasonous" means "a grieving mother whose only son was killed in a war started to enrich a few wealthy businessmen wears a shirt with the number of American dead on it", which is punishable by being arrested, collarbone broken, and thrown in jail for days.

    A bunch of childish sociopaths deliberately setting out to cripple the USA by acting like obstinate asses? Perfectly okay so long as they're Republicans.

  3. Both Sides Do It Says:

    I've never seen actual arguments defending the "derp derp supreme court" sarcasm.

    Are abortion rights important? Is Citizens United important? Was the Lilly Ledbetter decision important? Are restrictions on police and prosecutor misconduct important? Are the race-based affirmative action cases important? Are the school equality cases important? Will the inevitable gay marriage case be important? Was the ACA case important? Was fucking Bush v. Gore important?

    I really don't get what the argument is supposed to be defending the claim that this stuff doesn't matter.

  4. oiojes Says:

    Don't let Obama's fall from grace blind you to thinking the election is meaningless. Reid says he's going to change filibuster rules if the Dems keep the senate. The Repubs decry this– what? Have the Senate use majority rule? What can you be thinking? But expect a Republican senate to do exactly the same thing the instant it convenes. What? The filibuster is only for Republicans to use.

    Obama and the dems have been a spineless disappointment. Yes. I agree. But up here in Massachusetts we've seen what Romney can do and we prefer not to inflict that on the rest of the country.

    And that was when he was a moderate.

  5. Xynzee Says:

    We've been down this track before.

    *What* exactly are you proposing? Somebody says they're voting for the Ds/Obama and you immediately label them an Obamabot.

    As I've already said, my choice is Obama or Obama on the "left" and one of several non-choice nutters on the right. Was there an unannounced primary that you knew of that no one else did to get someone other than Obama?

    So because I'm voting for my only perceived choice I'm an Obamabot?

    Given the given state of affairs with the 1.5 party system we have, well at least I'm voting. And until Noe Won is running as a viable Independent I'm voting for the guy who'll at least pack my bum up with creame before shoving his arm in to the elbow with his Imperial signet ring than the one who won't.

    So unless Grand Central is to be your Finland for your Glorious Revolution, kindly put something forth.

  6. Arslan Says:

    Please note that I didn't attack or label anyone simply because they said they're voting for Obama. I am responding some of the arguments that are used to guilt us into voting for Obama. You go and vote all you want.

  7. eau Says:

    Very late to this party, but wanted to put in my 2c.

    1- I hope Ed can find a shit to give, because I believe Presidential election coverage is what he does best. Not that rest isn't good (often great), but this is his wheelhouse.

    2- Was 2008 an aberration in terms of a lot of Americans giving a shit? 1996, 2000, 2004… I may just be on the outside looking in, but it didn't seem like people cared all that much in these years either.

    3- I think a lot of the interest in 2008 was driven by the Dem. primaries as it dawned on people that the next prez would probably be a woman or a black man. Novelty counts for a lot.

    4- I still worry that people not caring in 2000 got us Bush the Younger. That didn't turn out so well for… Well, the USA, humanity, the planet… Like much in life, politics is about the choice between a shit sandwich and shit sandwich with added crushed glass. Neither tastes great, but only one shreds your internal organs.