Does this year’s presidential campaign strike you as strikingly petty? Boringly conventional? Uncommonly stupid? Yes? Join the crowd.
It shouldn’t be this way. After all, the times are unusually interesting, the nation’s circumstances fundamentally challenging, our conditions unpredictably surprising. And yet the campaigns seem incapable of saying anything that might inform, making arguments that might educate, doing anything that might inspire.
One is tempted now to provide the obligatory quotation from Matthew Arnold—And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night—and call it a day (or a night).
But that would be wrong. Yes, it’s a contest between two unusually unreflective candidates, one a liberal technocratic law professor, the other a moderate technocratic financier, in an era that has exposed the deficiencies of both liberal technocratic legalism and moderate technocratic finance capitalism. Yes, we’re watching a showdown between factions within an American elite whose recent contributions to the nation have mostly been conspicuous consumption, conspicuous arrogance, and conspicuous policy failure.
Still, whining is unmanly, and complaining pointless. And the fact remains that the choice this fall is far from an unimportant one.
It will likely come out well. Mitt Romney should win. The public doesn’t seem inclined to swoon for a second time at the charms of Barack Obama. The American people are resistant to their attempted seduction by the carnival barkers of modern liberalism. In general, the country has shown impressive resilience and good sense.
And it’s quite possible a Romney administration will prove superior to the Romney campaign. In any case, some Republicans in Congress seem poised to provide bold leadership next year. And even if Washington sounds an uncertain trumpet, conservatives around the country—governors and mayors and private sector reformers and policy entrepreneurs—stand ready to accelerate their efforts in many areas.
Reformist ages have followed on the heels of dreary presidential campaigns (e.g., 1932 and 1960). A stupid campaign needn’t mean we’re condemned to a stupid future. We can endure this campaign—not that we have much choice. And then we can prevail.