The End Is Near: Critiquing the Campaign

As the 2012 campaign passes into history, it’s not too soon to note some of the genuine horrors of this increasingly strange way of choosing a president.

First, though, let me repeat a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America that I cited many months ago when the campaign was heating up. The point isn’t to celebrate my foresightedness but Tocqueville’s. Here’s what he said about an American presidential campaign 175 years ago:

“The election becomes the greatest and, as it were, the only matter which occupies people’s minds. Then political factions redouble their enthusiasm, every possible phony passion that the imagination can conceive…comes out into the light of day. The President, for his part, is absorbed in the task of defending himself. He governs no longer in the interests of the state  but out of concern for his re-election….

“The whole nation descends into a feverish state; the election becomes the daily theme of newspapers, the subject of private conversations, the object of every maneuver and thought, the only concern of the present moment.”

Ah, yes. Consider the campaign of 2012.

Perhaps the most obvious fault of these quadrennial exercises as they’ve evolved is that they are much too long. Campaigning now formally begins at least a year before election day and, in reality, much earlier than that.

No doubt the process serves the useful purpose of weeding out unsuitable candidates, but there must be more expeditious ways of doing that. The one thing the interminable campaign of 2012  unquestionably accomplished was to run up the costs of campaigning, with huge sums going into expensive advertising. The media then happily banked the cash while deploring the role of big money in politics.

Dependence on expensive media to wage a campaign in turn fed the systematic dumbing-down of political discourse so evident this year. Complex issues were routinely reduced to ad hominem attacks delivered via TV spots and the like. This was nothing short of a scandal in a country that prides itself on being a model of democracy at work.

At least two serious problems with the primary system stood out. One was that it placed unreasonable power to shape the agenda—and bend the candidates—in the hands of a miniscule group like the folks who turn out to vote in the Iowa Republican caucuses. The other was the  practice in some places of allowing members of one party to vote in the other party’s primary. That is like inviting the head coach of the opposing team to send in plays to your quarterback.

Media bias was of course a pervasive presence this year. To be sure, bias is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. But it would be hard to argue with a straight face that it wasn’t a reality in 2012. Its most conspicuous handmaid arguably was the “gotcha” journalism, focused on verbal slips and malapropisms, that at times turned campaign coverage into a carnival of gaffes instead of a sober discussion of issues. It’s easier for journalists to cover an election this way, but it’s also a disservice to voters.

I could go on, but I close with a thought about the Catholic sector. Here the big contributions of 2012 were to emphasize and exacerbate the corrosive split between prolife Catholics and social justice Catholics, and to spotlight a woeful lack of continuing catechesis aimed at helping Catholics form their consciences in applying moral principles to politics. Serious remedial action is badly needed long before 2016.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • ConvertJournal

    “the corrosive split between prolife Catholics and social justice Catholics”

    I suppose some kind of labels are necessary to identify the two camps, but “prolife Catholics” are in reality, simply “Catholics”. Of course they are also pro-social justice, but accept Church teaching on moral weight.

    “Social justice Catholics” either do not know Church teaching or are in schism against it. If an accurate study could somehow be done, I suspect that that many in that camp would be found to oppose a wide spectrum of Church teaching (and see no problem with that).

  • LarryM

    In some ways this analysis reminds me of reportage of religious violence in places like Nigeria. Minority Christians are routinely attacked by Muslims, and only occasionally are they able to fight back. Yet, the media reports this simply ongoing sectarian violence, as though the two are on equal footing, but just hate each other.
    In this campaign, one side has been relentlessly negative, uncharitable, and personal, because their record is indefensible. The Obama campaign has, from the outset, portrayed Mitt Romney as evil incarnate. They spent literally tens of millions of dollars painting him as a greedy rapacious capitalist who cares nothing for the poor, or seniors, or really any group that traditionally relies on charity or government help.
    This portrait was essentially demolished in the first debate, where both sides agreed he came across as reasonable, caring, smart, and basically a fundamentally decent person. It is NOT uncharitable to challenge the president’s record, nor Romney’s record in business and government, for that matter. But what we have seen is a wholly lopsided view of one candidate being utterly smeared by the other, while the other one has generally taken the high road, by sticking to criticizing Obama’s record while at the same time presenting a positive plan for revamping the country.
    Neither side is pure as the wind-driven snow, but, like reporting on religious persecution as I said above, one side is heads and shoulders above the other.

  • John

    I believe the baseness of this campaign has been the worst in our nation’s history, including 1828, and especially from the left. I have never been more disappointed in our elected officials, the media and the culture.

  • Poppiexno

    Good article. I pray that the so-called “Catholics” who voted for Obama in the last election have now informed their concience and will not vote for the most pro abortion man to ever be in the White House. Further, Obama is the first president to actively seek to deconstruct this country.Wilson, FDR, LBJ, were misguided but at least they thought they were benefitting the country. Not so Obama. He talks as if he wants a better, stronger society but his actions are destructive. Pray God spares us from four more years of him.

  • Onegaishimasu

    Many people voted for Obama because he seemed to represent a post racial world, where everyone would be judged on their merits alone. If “social justice” individuals do not adhere to fundamentals, they lose the label Catholic and become heretics.
    I pray that we begin a better and more comprehensive catechesis than we have in the past forty years.

  • PrayingHard

    Agreed…it was so vicious on the part of progressives, I couldn’t watch anymore.