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Our politics, gone to the dogs

April 18, 2012
Editor's note: This is a guest post from our good friend Matt O'Brien, an associate editor at The Atlantic who covers business and politics, and a generally awesome Twitter-er. Follow him at @ObsoleteDogma.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but sometimes even I take a break from it. Last night was one of those times. So imagine my surprise when I came home, flipped on my computer and scanned Twitter: People wouldn't stop talking about the dietary habits of a six-year old President Obama. For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided this train wreck of a story, stop reading. For everyone else - and for the masochists out there - it's time for us to have an adult talk.

First, a quick recap of our brain-dead politics. Yesterday, Mitt Romney's campaign, tired of the endless ribbing Romney takes for once strapping his dog Seamus to the car roof during a road trip, pointed out that Obama ate dog as a child when he lived in Indonesia. DUN-DUN-DUN. Twitter was quickly overrun.

For my part, I tried to avoid it. I really did. I didn't want to know why people were joking about eating dog. But it wouldn't stop. Eventually my curiosity got the better of me. I capitulated. And instantly regretted it. If this was the internet's way of punishing me for leaving, albeit briefly, then I PROMISE TO NEVER LEAVE AGAIN. Because I don't think we can afford too much more of this inanity. Or maybe it's insanity. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is more apropos.

A few people snarking on Twitter isn't exactly a sign of national decline. This is worse. This is the presidential campaigns themselves. Manufacturing and manipulating these faux outrages is increasingly what they do. Just check out the tweet exchange between Obama and Romney gurus David Axelrod and Eric Fehrnstrom over this dog business. It's depressing. 

It's also the logical destination of politics at warp speed. It's all about winning the news cycle. No, that's too slow. Now you've got to win the hour. Ha! Haven't you heard: The world is flat now! The minute! The second! The tweet! The... Make it stop.

Let's get sanctimonious, er, honest. We have lots of problems nowadays. Millions of people are unemployed. People are still losing their homes. Healthcare costs are rising too fast. College is too expensive for too many students. For the lucky ones in school, a terrible jobs market and too much student debt awaits them after graduation. Then there's our deteriorating infrastructure. Our Byzantine tax code. Global warming. Afghanistan. I could go on. It's depressing.

But not as depressing as the public spectacle of top campaign officials trying to "win" ridiculous spats more worthy of middle school. (I'm sorry, that's an insult to middle schoolers). This is just life inside the Beltway bubble. It's all poppycock, all the time. But here's the thing: nobody cares. Nobody but political operatives, that is. Everybody else has actual problems to worry about. They aren't interested in who ate what 40 years ago.  

This mindless bickering just turns people off of politics. And that's the real shame. If we're going to get the, ahem, restoration we need, we're going to need better politics. So to all the political operatives and spin masters out there: We have real outrages. Stop inventing fakes ones. You're hurting America.

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