Whither the BOW Award?

November 8, 2008

It’s Saturday again, the day on which I usually post a new BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award entry.  We’ve just come through twenty-two months of campaigning and one of the most extraordinary Presidential races this nation has ever seen, culminating in the election of Barack Obama.  If you had told me two years ago that American voters would elect as President a biracial man with a Kenyan name, I would have told you that you were out of your mind.  But just as this was an election for the ages, Obama ran a campaign for the ages.  It was virtually gaffe-free, it was more disciplined than any Democratic campaign I’ve ever seen, and it offered a clear, consistent, and powerful message.

Amid all of this, of course, we witnessed acts of buffoonery that boggled the mind and tickled the imagination.  I tried to point out as many of these as I could, and to do so with a suitable blend of humor and righteous indignation.  I’m sure that along the way I ticked off some of you — sorry for that.

We’ve already seen this week that the end of a campaign in no way means the end of acts of conspicuous political or journalistic stupidity.  I received a nomination earlier this week from a friend who had seen Ralph Nader’s unfortunate comments on Fox News the night of the election.  For those of you who missed it, Nader questioned whether Obama would be “Uncle Sam for the people of this country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.”  Amazingly, many on the left have been defending Nader’s remark, basically saying that he was making a legitimate point about corporate access to the political process and implying that Obama ought to be held to a higher standard on such issues, since he campaigned, in part, against lobbyists and special interest influence.  All of that might be true, but his choice of words was at best unfortunate.  I found it deeply offensive.  And before you argue, ask yourself this:  Would Nader have used the same turn of phrase had the election winner been a white liberal Democrat?  I think it’s obvious that he wouldn’t have.  He wanted to make a point.  He wanted to do so in as inflammatory a manner as possible, in order to garner the most attention for himself.  There was a time when I respected, even admired Ralph Nader.  He was once a terrifically effective advocate for consumer safety.  But he has become a pathetic figure, an electoral afterthought whose political posturing over the past decade has done enough harm to the causes he once championed to negate the successes of his early career.  At this point he is reduced to going on Fox News on election night and throwing around racial epithets to get himself noticed.  It’s sad, really.

I think a nomination is also in order for those in the McCain campaign who have been savaging Sarah Palin in the press since election night with anonymous quotes and anecdotes.  Now let me by clear.  I have precious little respect for Sarah Palin.  I think she is provincial, prosaic, and overly ideological.  I think she lowered the level of discourse in this campaign with unconscionable attacks on Barack Obama that dangerously incited the crowds listening to her.  And I believe that she did not deserve to be a major party candidate for vice president — her resume was too thin, her intellect too weak.  But by the same token, she’s not the reason John McCain lost the election.  John McCain is.  To the extent that Sarah Palin’s presence on the ticket hurt him, he is to blame for choosing her without first properly vetting her and making certain that she was prepared for a vigorous national debate on complex issues.  To the extent that McCain’s campaign aides are going after her now in order deflect blame for Tuesday’s result from themselves and their candidate, they are doing McCain, the Republican party, and the American people a disservice.  Sarah Palin was a symptom, not a cause.

So there are a couple of nominees, but the truth is I’m not sure that I want to give a BOW Award this week.  I’m not sure I want to continue doing the BOW Award on a regular basis.  I was thinking of doing a BOW of BOWs this week — kind of a greatest hits post in which I’d choose the biggest buffoon of the election season (and at some point I still might), but I’m not even sure I want to do that.  I’ve enjoyed the BOW Award, but I’m tired.  I’m ready to focus on topics unrelated to partisan politics.  And perhaps more to the point, I think that we as a people need to stop focusing on the political wars of the last two years.  The BOW Award is fun, but I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t exactly elevate the level of political discourse.

So this week I choose to give no BOW Award.  Let’s all take a deep breath and enjoy a weekend without polls and partisan bickering.  Let’s celebrate the fact that a country only 140 years removed from the end of slavery and less than half a century removed from the end of Jim Crow has elected a man of African descent to the White House.  Let’s marvel at our political system, which allows for the peaceful  and near seamless transfer of power from one political party to its rival.  There’ll be plenty of time to point out acts of buffoonery.  But not this week.

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