Politics: USA – part ritual, part circus. The heated debates, the outlandish promises, the feel-good slogans the almost pop-star idolatry, it’s been that way forever, or at least since 1908 when the first political/Presidential campaign recordings were made.
But what’s different now from then; then, being the 1956 elections when this documentary was made, is how early the hoopla starts. It used to be candidates would make their intentions known sometime around January of election year and head straight into the primaries. Now, it seems to be the end of one Presidential election signals the beginnings of the campaign for the next Presidential election some four years away. It’s almost a full-time job – it explains the number of candidates declaring and eventually dropping out from the grueling aspects of meeting, shaking hands, discussing issues, fielding questions, taking town hall debates and repeating the process over and over again.
Listening to this documentary Politics: USA from 1956, it all seemed cut-and-dry and intense. Maybe the intensity was a product of campaigning that was compressed into the space of some 8 months – whatever it was, the voter was never bored. Now, we arrive at critical mass by the time Primary season starts – we’ve heard enough, witnessed enough mudslinging, tolerated enough quips and attacks, heard more than enough slogans – and maybe that’s what spells voter apathy. It could certainly be a consideration in why voter turnout has been so low in recent elections. But it’s the same ritual – that part hasn’t changed – the decorum and the overall civility have changed – we tend to attack over seemingly trivial issues, look for scandals in order to shame the candidate into dropping out – weather endless hours of ads that attack.
Listening to this documentary, narrated by Will Rogers Jr. you get a sense that we’ve lost much of the ritual of the election process – that it’s become a giant game between Super-Pacs and corporate donors and that the average American has become window-dressing against a backdrop of influence – and that the President has become more a figurehead than an actual leader. Maybe I’m wrong – but listening to this historic look back at campaigns going to the 1920s you get the feeling that, right or wrong, we were looking at a race between real individuals and real issues and history depended on that.
Have a listen and see what you think. Politics: USA as it was aired on January 29, 1956.