Obama, Romney, electoral votes, the effects of Sandy, the queues in Florida, the voter registration laws, the number of press-ups Michelle Obama can muster and the relative smugness of the Romney children.
What I’ve only seen one post about, of course, is Irish politics. In four days we are having a referendum on children’s rights in this country, and yet nobody is talking about it. Part of this may be down to the fait accompli feeling surrounding the vote (which, by the way, won’t be accompli if people are too apathetic to reach quorum – Update: as pointed out in comments, Irish referenda don’t have quora, which is… better?). But as far as I can see, the majority of this can be put down to this: Irish politics has lost the ability to inspire, if indeed it ever had it.
The obvious rebuttal to such a statement is to suggest that the US election is not inspirational, it is merely a spectacle that is being shoved down our throats by a Western-obsessed media. And while it’s true that pretty much every news site is live blogging the Presidential election as if it were the X Factor final, I suspect that the truth is far more depressing.
At some point, it became impossible to feel passion and hope for Irish politics.
During this US election cycle (which I have been sucked into as much as anyone else) there have been a couple of major social issues on the table: the treatment of the poor, the possibility of equal marriage, and the threats to a woman’s right to choose.
Irish bloggers and commenters have been aghast at Mitt Romney’s opinion on the so-called 47%, his opposition to equal marriage, and his party’s vehement attempts to restrict abortion laws that have been in place since the early 70s.
What people are less concerned with, it seems, is how these issues are dealt with by our own government. Let’s not forget that on the issue of equal rights for the LGBT community, we are still in a position where we can’t adopt and cannot marry. And for those who believe that civil partnerships get the job done, I’d urge them to look at the Marriage Equality report detailing the 150+ differences between partnership and marriage.
On poverty, we have two parties – one in power and one on a path to resurgence – that have been responsible for crippling this country and placing the burden of earth-shattering repayments on those most at risk.
And on a woman’s right to choose, our people are rising up but our leaders are barely even talking about it – and have for twenty years ignored an edict directing that the slightest of wriggle room be given to the concept.
Of course US politics is a spectacle – everything in the US is. New York’s experience of Sandy was an Oscar-winning and heart-wrenching tale of man versus nature, while the countries she barrelled through on her way there were buried on page six. It’s what the media does, and as the supposed kings of media it’d be odd if things weren’t so clear-cut.
But what’s wrong with a little spectacle? What’s wrong with believing that people’s lives can be more than just day-to-day drudgery and nuance, and that sometimes our experiences can rise to the level of fable? That the best version of that skewed concept we call the American Dream can exist in the experience of their First Family? That we should be passionate, and emotional, and bull-headed about the fate of a country?
Perhaps it’s a life raised on The West Wing and The Daily Show that’s done it, but at some point most of the people I know became superlatively au fait with the specificities and issues of a country they’ve never lived in. Perhaps it is just media coverage that does it.
Or perhaps it’s something else.
Over the weekend myself and some friends were discussing The Two Marys – Robinson and McAleese. The former’s autobiography hit shelves recently, filled with the experiences of a woman who battled a distinctly unfriendly political climate to become our first female President, and then went on to champion countless causes as part of the UN and in other enterprises.
Mary McAleese was not just a perfect representation of but an active participant in the slow evolution of “The North” from battleground and political football to subject of a thousand tourist ads.
Our current President is also a champion of the arts, minority rights and more – and has done a strong job in a role that is constitutionally handcuffed.
In the Senate-while-we-have-it, there are also causes for inspiration – people like David Norris, who are outspoken on issues of equality in Irish society (and who teamed up with McAleese in the 80s to dismantle Ireland’s anti-homosexuality laws).
But beyond the Aras and the Senate, things fall away.
In short, there is something rotten at the heart of the Irish Oireachtas.
Our jaws drop at Mitt Romney and the concept that a political system can be bought by the highest bidder, yet we’re complacent as the twin cancers of nepotism and boys’ clubs choke the idea of a diverse Irish political system.
Perhaps it’s the power. The only recent examples of truly passionate politics lie in the President and the Senate, two areas where the position is often largely ceremonial. Maybe the Oireachtas just attracts those hungry for the power that their parents and grandparents fed on like scarabs.
But shouldn’t we expect better? Shouldn’t we be outraged?
In my entire life, no TD has ever inspired me. And while “inspiring” might be a dirty word in a time of X Factor contestant stories and a US electorate with cookie-cutter attitudes to important issues, it’s a vital component of any system of governance. Do we want rulers who dodge questions, hide behind committee structures, and choose to follow popular opinion rather than informing truly progressive public debate?
Where are our great orators? Where are the great men and women to embody the Irish combination of rebellion and poetry? Where are those who would put their heads above the parapet? Where are our fucking leaders?
I’m not sure. But I don’t think we’re doing anything right now that will ensure that an Irish child today will grow up to be a statesman (or woman), and not just a politician.
So while it’s heartening to see people care about politics of any kind, it’s disturbing that we have grown long-sighted in our outrage, unable to see that the rot at home is more pervasive and difficult to weed out than that across the pond.
In 24 hours, my news feeds will – depending on the trajectory of tonight’s count – be filled with celebrations or commiserations
And in Ireland, nothing will have changed.