By Greg Ellis
“I wish that all Americans would realize that American politics is world politics.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919, 26th U.S. President, Republican
Through the doors and beyond the dark wooded hallway were the sounds of an event. The redolent odor of food, a warming atmosphere and roaring fireplaces. A level of focus and enthusiasm not witnessed since a hockey playoff run was present, the fans watched religiously as a barrage of numbers were presented to them–complemented by analysis and esoteric argument. I was at a local pub for the 2004 U.S. Presidential election–the juxtaposition should not elude you. I had been at the same pub for the Canadian Federal Election–it was no contest. Our interest lies in U.S. politics over our own.
The marketing machine of the U.S. political system is staggering. While the two presidential campaigns spent a combined $520 million on advertising even this does not seem to aptly underscore their influence. We don’t question why we are more interested in the politics of the south over our own. Our quick answers seem insufficient, inapplicable. We argue that more is at stake, they seem more significant, American politics are the politics of the world. The validity of these two statements remains in question, we are nothing more than a captivated audience subservient to an impeccably executed marketing campaign.
An identity was gained through our polarity–we attached to a candidate and forgot all else. In Canada, supporting Kerry was easy, you were amongst friends. What concerns me more is not who supported who but how the theater and drama caused so many of us to lose sight of the issues. Breathtaken by the imagery and blinded by the significance our emaciated attention spans engorged from drama, mesmerized by importance.
Inculcated in us is the tragic relationship of the major news media and their dramatization of events. The existence of this seems obvious–I myself am a suffering victim. The polarity of the two candidates acted as a fuel for combustion of the worldwide election marketing machine. The pundits, but the sports commentators giving a play by play of an election gone awry. The audience, but the fans of an overtime playoff match.
What concerns me most is just how dominant our southern neighbor is. During the Canadian Federal Elections no coverage was present on U.S. networks, or if it was, it was short, to the point a news filler between regular coverage. Perhaps a message progressing across a ticker in between the latest weather in Montana or the NASDAQ average. During the U.S. election CBC, Global et al performed assiduous coverage of the election. They too seemed seduced by the excitement of this event, and further liable to perpetuating it indefinitely. What’s more, the Canadian media were present at the pub I was watching the election from, reporting diligently on “Democrats Abroad”, an organization of ex-pats who patriotically demonstrated their support in the company of food, beverage and five big screen television sets emitting poltical punditry and a digital kaleidoscope of numbers and percentages.
The charge of apathy harmoniously fits. The accusation itself is serious and requires some hesitation. We are not politically apathetic in Canada. In Canada we are not subjected to marketing that induces our uninterrupted attention. Our southern neighbor’s media dominance is indisputable and our submission gives us much warmth–a sense of belonging. We now find our identity as Democrats and Republicans rather than as Liberals or Conservatives.