As usual, our obsession is with leaders. As usual, we seem never ever to tire of the relentless attention, non-stop for many months now, on the race between the Democratic and Republican candidates for president of the United States. So exhaustion sets in even before the main event has started – even before the first of the presidential debates takes place. For days now we’ve heard little more than who’s the better debater and who’s the worse – Barack Obama or Mitt Romney – and who is likely to leave whom bloodied and bent and who, in contrast, will emerge the triumphant victor.
But for someone like me the interest is not only in the two leaders, the two gladiators, but in the rest of us, the masses in the stands, waiting to see who beats up whom, how, and how badly. For this event is, primarily perhaps, an entertainment, a context between two men, not unlike two boxers in a ring or a two-man fight of any sort, in which it is expected with something approaching blood-lust there will be one winner, and one clear loser.
It’s too bad, really, for what happens down the line is about much more than two mere mortals. It’s about a whole constellations of individuals and institutions interacting in ways that are well beyond the control of any single leader, no matter how apparently powerful. By fixating with such overweening excitement and anticipation on the events of this evening, we underestimate the complexities of politics and diminish rather than enhance the likelihood that the nation’s political life comes to be considered our collective responsibility.