Abigael Evans became a viral sensation this week when her mom posted a video clip of the strawberry-blond cherub sobbing piteously that she was “tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney.”
“It will be over soon,” her mom soothes in the clip, providing some much-needed uplift not merely to the teary tot but to an entire nation weary of this electoral squabble.
It’s not just that the modern presidential season goes on and on. And on. It’s not even that both of this year’s nominees are running campaigns as bloodless and uninspiring as any in recent memory. More broadly, this cycle, almost from the very beginning, has been virtually devoid of both sex appeal and pathos—an absence made all the more glaring when compared to the embarrassment of riches enjoyed in 2008.
Ah, 2008. Back then Barack Obama could melt a room with a single speech. Women fantasized about that smile, those ears … Chills went dancing up Chris Matthews’s manly leg. The candidate’s supercoolness inspired a smokin’-hot Obama Girl video. Actress Scarlett Johansson struck up an email relationship with the aspiring POTUS that started tongues wagging. It was all so very, very seductive.
And Obama wasn’t even the Democratic contender caught with his fly open that year! That distinction went to John Edwards, who, in October 2007, in the thick of the primaries, found himself grappling with tabloid rumors that he’d managed to knock up some videographer working for his campaign. So desperate and deluded was Johnny that it took another two-plus months for him to leave the race. And, ultimately, his sexcapades proved to be so beyond the pale—even by the standards of high-level politics—that they crossed the border from lascivious into grotesque. But all that sneaking around and whispers about a love child certainly kept things interesting for a time.
There was even a weird sexual vibe to the Hillary campaign, driven, as it was, by all that estrogen. Hillary has never been much of a sex symbol per se, but she has always been a feminist icon, a key player in the small “p” sexual politics of the big “p” political world. Her candidacy fueled a go-girl passion among legions of women—especially “women of a certain age.” And when she lost? Oy. Democratic leaders initially were nervous about how to handle all those bitter cougars roaming the party in search of a throat to chew.
Nor were the Dems the only ones with sizzle to spare. Once Sarah Palin was tapped as John McCain’s running mate, Republicans also began salivating in earnest. The pundits swooned. National Review’s Rich Lowry saw “starbursts,” and the naughty-librarian look enjoyed a brief renaissance. The Internet was flooded with mocked-up dirty pics of the governor.
But 2008 wasn’t only about heat. There was also real pathos along the way. Tough-as-nails Hillary getting all emotional and sniffly at that campaign stop in New Hampshire. Devoted daughter Chelsea looking on teary-eyed as her mom officially withdrew from the race. John and Elizabeth Edwards announcing (before we discovered what a crapweasel he was) that her cancer had come roaring back. Finally, there was the sad spectacle of John McCain—war hero and longtime kick-ass maverick—struggling to woo a party, and a nation, impervious to his charms.
If last time around we were given grand opera, this time it’s like watching a middle-school play. Newt Gingrich’s preening? Rick Perry’s swaggering inanity? Michele Bachmann’s brittleness and unnerving intensity? The closest we came to heat was the alleged philandering of the clownish Herman Cain. The closest we came to passion was Ron Paul’s crotchety-grandpa shtick. And the only moments of pathos were watching Rick Santorum talk about his special-needs 3-year-old, Bella. The 2012 Obama doesn’t send a thrill up much of anyone’s leg. And Romney? Oof. Let’s just say he comes honestly by the nickname Mittbot.
Now and again, the entire display has veered into flat-out farce—like, say, every time Donald Trump or John Sununu open their crazy pie holes. But such instances only emphasize how small, cramped, and petty much of this race has been.
None of which is to suggest that the outcome of this multi-year battle is in any way unimportant. But the slog to November 6th has been dispiriting and enervating enough to put many of us in touch with our inner 4-year-old.