Paul Tullis, being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare that as of today, August 18, I shall willfully ignore the 1996 Presidential election and all news coverage, regardless of medium, thereof. As a professional journalist, this shall not be a simple task, and as a professional journalist who fancies himself something of a media critic, it may be downright unwise. I have been educated and acculturated to train my skeptical eye on media and politics and their intersection, and such a deliberate attempt to remain ignorant contradictsnay, thumbs its nose atall these years of cultivated erudition.
Nevertheless, innovation, risk-taking, and hubris are what this country was founded on, godammit, and so, with this endeavor, I shall continue this great tradition.
I have come to this decision for three reasons:
- Press coverage of the election campaign will be useless. It's so weighted toward the reporting of highly suspect overnight polls and prognosticating over who's going to win where and why that becoming informed on the issues facing the next presidentlet alone how he plans to approach themwill be near impossible. Why bother?
- The election is a study in foregone conclusions. Unless Americans start dropping like flies in Bosnia, or Clinton is assassinated, or he decides to bomb California, Clinton/Gore will be reelected. Therefore, following the election newsagain, especially since most of it is horse race-orientedis a huge waste of time.
- It just doesn't matter. Clinton and Dole are so similar on nearly every issue that who is ultimately elected just isn't very important. Historically, the parameters of political discourse in the U.S. are so narrow that anyone to the left of the Kennedys is considered some kind of wacko. (Nelson Mandela, for example, could never get elected in this country, even if he were white.) Moreover, Clinton has moved the Democratic Party so far to the rightboth during his tenure as head of the Democratic Leadership Council and as Presidentthat the difference between the two parties is almost indistinguishable. On taxes, welfare, defense, social programs, unions, health care, education, and nearly every other domestic issue, Democrats have capitulated to the Reagan agenda. Republicans now frame the debate; Democrats either respond or roll overrarely do they challenge or propose. I'm not even a Democrat and, in the same way I'm not a Washington Bullets fan but I still hope they'll make the playoffs, I find this resignation pathetic. The only concession I'll make is that whoever is in power will impact on appointmentsboth cabinet and judicial. But still, ignoring the election is like an act of civil disobedience for me, and sometimes that can have negative consequences. Tough.
THEREFORE: I, Paul Tullis, will keep a diary detailing the presidential election campaign as I experience itor don't. That experience will be strictly third hand. I will not read any articles; I will not hear any speeches; I will not listen to updates on the radio; and if I come across election coverage on TV, I'll change the channel. (Don't even talk to me about the Web.) I won't watch the returns on TV. I will only hear about the election from people who get wind of it through the media, and I will report what I hear. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I acknowledge that the last news I got on the election was Leslie Stahl's segment on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, August 18.) Of course, the random headline that catches my eye, the sound-nibble I may get flipping channels will be unavoidable. But even this, I'm sure, will be somehow instructive. This is a unique opportunity to turn this historic event into a game of "telephone."
Join me, friends, as we embark together on this journey to unknown shores. Of course, there is the remote possibility that in the course of my quest I will be exposed as a self-important fool so ignorant of what's going on as to be laughable. And you, fair reader, get to watch. Remember, the best thing about auto racing is when the cars crash.
So come now, turn your face from the light, and step into this dark corner of blissful ignorance with me. Don't worryI shan't grope you. Fear not, and don't look at me all funny like that. Together, we can build a new paradigm, which will look something like a paragon, except not so shiny. </end>
Strategy: Every Friday, I will post my report on my election ennui, hereafter known as the Ostrich Race. It is possible that occasionally I won't hear anything about the election. After all, my friends have lives. In this event, I'll take special note of other news I have followed, so that you will get a peek at what's being marginalized by the fruitless election coverage. On the first day of November, I'll predict the winner. The day after the election, I will post a wrap-up report and my final thoughts on this foolhardy experiment.
Baby and statue image © Zee, Picture Network International, Ltd.
Paul Tullis is senior editor of Might magazine. He lives in San Francisco.