It's Still About Nothing
- Ben Waxman
- December 30, 2004
The genius of "Seinfeld" lay in the subject matter. Absolutely nothing. For nine seasons, this brilliant show netting huge ratings without compelling ideas or nuanced characters.
It seems like the Republicans have captured American politics with the same formula.
Consider the last presidential election. With a war raging in Iraq and an economy that can only be described as sluggish, a high proportion of voters supported President Bush based on so-called "moral values." I guess sending a nation to war without justification and screwing the poor aren't covered in Sunday school.
The point is there were real issues in the past election. And the campaigns barely talked about any of them.
That's the shrewd nature of the Republican strategy. We've got serious problems in this country and conservatives have never been interesting in addressing any of them. Instead, President Bush and his top strategists are focused on making people care about issues that don't impact them. Americans have become obsessed with the politics of naught.
Just like George, Elaine, and Jerry, we talk endlessly about things that have no real relevance. The same-sex marriage issue has become as important to us as being master of his own domain was to Jerry. Somehow, Republicans convinced millions of people that gay marriage was important.
Never mind only a very small amount of people are actually impacted by the issue. Never mind that Massachusetts, the only state to allow gay marriage, has the lowest divorce rate in the country. Conservatives focused on the issue like Kramer obsessing about his latest get-rich-quick scheme. Similar to the poor guy who invested in Kramerica Industries, voters across the country embraced the being and nothingness of President Bush and his right-wing policies.
And that's the brilliant part. Our manufacturing base is quickly eroding; public education seems unable to prepare students for the new economy; and millions of Americans are without healthcare. I won't even mention the dozens of U.S. soldiers being killed every month.
The point is there were real issues in the past election. And the campaigns barely talked about any of them. Bush and his cronies sidetracked the electorate with sweet nothings of cultural war. For his part, Kerry never took initiative to seize control of the debate and allowed the Republican spin machine to define him. Like the "Seinfeld" episode that entirely takes place in the waiting room of a Chinese restaurant, this campaign was defined by the expectation that important topics might be discussed as soon as a table opened up.
The irony of Jerry and the gang was that the characters were constantly focusing on the nitty-gritty of everyday life. They didn't need fancy narratives or explosive plotlines to make things interesting. The writers understood the mundane rhythms that make up our everyday existence are the essence of life.
In that vein, Republicans have figured out how to flip the script. Instead of talking about everyday issues that are central to people's lives, they talk about explosive topics which have absolutely no impact on the majority of people. Instead of offering coherent solutions to our national problems, conservatives offer divisive proposals designed to undermine the social fabric of our national character.
As much as I love "Seinfeld," I'd like to move away from the politics of nothing. We might undo all the good that the politics of something have done.
Ben Waxman is a student studying politics at Juniata College.