Richmond College '10
Famed economist and philosopher Adam Smith wrote "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" in 1759. In this, his second-most-famous work, he wrote the following: "The external graces, the frivolous accomplishments of that impertinent and foolish thing called a man of fashion, are commonly more admired than the solid and masculine virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legislator."
This quote eerily has many connections to the current set of political events that our nation has become immersed in. It would not require a large stretch to extend this metaphor to our current candidates running for president as well as our nation's obsession with tabloid sensationalism. Barack Obama, the man of fashion, has enjoyed a near-celebrity status in forums ranging from his 75,000-person acceptance speech to the everyday news media. John McCain, the warrior, statesman and long time legislator, has endured a more subtle role in the campaign by playing second fiddle to Obama's pop-icon status.
As I discussed in my column last week, Obama has seen unprecedented amounts of youth support in his campaign. He has been heralded by some as "The One," with abounding stories of people fainting at his rallies. The popularity that Obama has enjoyed has shown our country's preference for human interest stories and shiny rhetoric over actual policy issues that concern our country's future. Will 2008 be forever remembered as the year that style trumped substance?
Some would argue that Obama's star is beginning to tarnish given the recent McCain surge in the polls. For a while, Americans began to settle down and concern themselves with the economy, national security, energy and health care. The Saddleback Civic Forum marked the first event in which both candidates sat down in the same setting (albeit at alternative times) and discussed their plans and policy ideas. It looked as though the tide was changing in favor of rigorous policy debate.
Enter Sarah Palin. Whatever John McCain was lacking in star power he more than made up for with the glam that Sarah Palin brought to his ticket. Immediately, the media seized the opportunity to delve into this potential vice president's personal life. Joe Biden is boring old news compared to Palin. She is new to the political scene, and the media wanted its due chance to investigate her inside and out. This time, however, the attacks and fact-digging become more personal and largely rumor based. Palin witnessed her family's life become issue No. 1 on the evening news. The headlines rotated between her teen daughter's pregnancy, purely speculative charges of infidelity and many more blog-initiated stories.
As the mostly erroneous charges began to pile up, some Americans took exception. This led the editor of the National Enquirer to write a lengthy Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal defending his publication's constitutional right to investigate and probe into the personal lives of any candidate. He argued that "voters have a right to whatever information we can dig up." Fair enough, the National Enquirer and similar publications are protected under the First Amendment. Just because free speech is a civil liberty, however, doesn't mean that we as Americans have to become wholly consumed with every story and buy them hook, line and sinker.
Sadly lost in all of this are Palin's actual ideals and initiatives that she undertook as governor of Alaska. Similarly, some of Obama's plans are still not fully a part of the national debate (although much of this blame lies with the Obama campaign itself, which has chosen to emphasize "vision" and "change" in place of policy discussions). The temporary spike of the Palin selection seems to be subsiding. Hopefully, we as a nation can once again settle back down and focus on making informed decisions regarding our country's future. Then John McCain can excel in the role which he is most comfortable: as a statesmen, warrior and legislature. In pure policy debates, McCain has proven superior to Obama. The Saddleback Civic Forum was evidence of this and likely the trend will continue in the coming debates. If our country can move past the blinding lights of fashion then John McCain will be our 44th president. If not, then we will have proven Adam Smith's conjecture right nearly 250 years later.
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