Right about this time last year, we witnessed one of the grandest episodes in American political theater: an historic Presidential campaign coming to a crescendo during the final evening of the Democratic National Convention.
Who could forget the massive, made-for-TV stage at Denver's Invesco Field – bold columns fashioned to look like, what? A Greek temple? The White House? The steps of the Lincoln Memorial?
It didn't matter. The speeches were eloquent and the backdrop was regal, majestic, and, well, very Presidential. As camera flashes popped every moment and images of 80,000-plus euphoric supporters were displayed on the stadium jumbotrons and TV screens around the world, even the most die-hard Republican operative would have to give a begrudging nod of respect for the show that was taking place that night.
The two-and-a half month period from mid-August all the way to Election Day is where we witness some of the most heated hand-to-hand political combat between Democrats and Republicans, with verbal punches and counter-punches and political parries and thrusts that would make Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli proud.
It's also the time when crazy things happen – surprise revelations come out, dirty laundry gets aired, and wacky allegations are made. Anything can and will happen, and it all becomes part of the theatre. It's the time that's invariably described in the media as the “silly season.”
Well, the silly season is back again this August, with a vengeance. And it's sillier than ever.
One need only look at the “town hall” meetings taking place across the country. Congressmen being shouted down by constituents. Allegations of “right-wing extremists funded by K Street lobbyists” inciting mayhem at meetings. People bringing their guns to discussions about healthcare. Surreal theatre.
And then there are the swirling debates happening in every venue imaginable – in the wells of the House and Senate, on cable TV news shows and YouTube, and in our aforementioned town-hall get-togethers. The topics: stimulus spending, the “cash-for-clunkers” program, energy and climate-change, to name a few.
All very worthy topics for discussion, to be sure. However, robust discussion has been replaced by so much blather and hot air. And vigorous debate has been forsaken for so much rancor and vitriol that there is no room left for listening. The theater is turning into a horror show.
Wake me up when silly season is over.
Robert Tappan, a former senior official at the US State Department, is president of public affairs firm Weber Merritt. His column looks at issues advocacy and related public affairs topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.