The Personal Is Political

16 May

During the rare moments I was cognizant of a presidential election occurring in France, I wondered why we never heard of the candidate’s personal life.  I chalked it up to my own media feed not being as international as it should be.  Being an American, my experience with presidential races is that the public is wildly interested in high school antics, college-age romantic dalliances, inhaling, spouse’s income sources, how the dog travels, etc.  If you aren’t assured that a candidate watches the same television shows as you do or eats the same snack foods, how in the world can you make an informed decision?

Now that President Hollande is in office, a bit of his personal life is finding its way into our media.  His first lady (Ms. Trierweiler) is a twice-divorced mother and works for Paris Match.  They (somewhat surprisingly) will be the first non-married first couple of France.  This seems to be of interest to the French from the perspective of protocol.  After all, the highest offices are nothing if not bastions of antiquated protocols.  President Hollande was not living in secret; the voters knew of his marital status and voted for him.  It’s hard to imagine this happening in the United States.  Yes, the governor of New York is living with his partner without benefit of marriage.  But would voters have been disinterested in this arrangement if he wasn’t the son of a former governor and she didn’t have her own television show?  Doubtful.  Americans love a good scion story as much as they love celebrity.

Who one chooses to whisper goodnight to at the end of every day has nothing to do with job qualifications.  The only time when one’s personal life should become public is when his/her position and/or office are involved.  So why is it that we obsess over such things?  Why do we care whom and how people love?  I’m not so sure we actually do.  I think it is far easier to understand someone’s personal life (we all presumably have one of those) than to wrap one’s brain around the complexities of the issues.  International economics, national security, international relations, national economy, higher education, medical care, aging nation, worker readiness, jobs, housing, climate… Need I go on?  The issues are endless, particularly during a time of economic uncertainty.

If our candidate’s messages are being parceled out into lunchable size (and quality) it’s because we buy them and gobble them up.  If there really was a time that we sat down and read lengthy narratives about a candidate, it’s long gone.  Are we just lazier now; our attention spans withered into nubs?  Maybe.  Is it that with globalization comes too much information?  Probably.  Perhaps I’m romanticizing, but to my mind fifty years ago, the most one had to know about the rest of the world was; “we can kick their ass, right?”

If we’re lucky there will be one presidential debate in which the candidates discuss their ideas and what their plans are for implementation.  Will we watch it (either in real time or streamed?)  Or will we rely on what others tell us?  Can a candidate really be blamed for going for the soundbite when it stands to reason that is what the greatest majority of voters will actually hear?

There’s so much noise now living along side so many vital issues.  These are not the makings of a good marriage.


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