Signs of the Times

It really is quite a show. An American presidential campaign is a production of gigantic proportions. The time, energy, money, analysis, and media attention devoted to these extravaganzas are simply beyond calculation.

In no other country I'm aware of is the process so long and drawn out, or so exhaustingly recorded and reported. The election of a president in the United States is treated as an epic of major proportions, whether or not its outcome is likely to justify all the attention. Despite the many flaws in the process (some quite lethal to the success of genuine democracy), the whole spectacle is indeed something to behold.

I went to both political conventions this year and have followed the whole drama quite closely. And Sojourners has given considerable attention to the campaign this year. That suggests we think this election campaign has been important, and we do. Elections are important, but often less for what they produce than for what they reveal. What is happening under the surface of the events, issues, and personalities the media focus on can easily be missed. And the interpretation of what it all means, beyond who might win, is seldom understood or discussed very clearly. It must also be said that who wins and loses is important, especially to the victims of destructive policies.

There is also another motive for election coverage. Garry Wills, who was covering both conventions for Time, said to me in New Orleans, "America-watching is fun." He's right. America-watching is fun, as well as being instructive. I confess that I've always had the political bug. There are fewer things I enjoy more than staying up late with a few similarly afflicted friends to watch the election returns. Sometimes it's like watching basketball--pure entertainment. Other times the watching is with the keen awareness of lives at stake. Most often it is a little of both.

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