Welcome to Memorial Day week, what once was considered the unofficial start of the campaign season for the fall election. You may now all go, “Oh, God, no, please no, anything but that!”
It's fascinating that politicians gave themselves only a five-month window to campaign at a time when campaigning was a slow, arduous process. It took real time and effort to get the word out with such primitive means as campaign stops, billboards and newspaper ads. The easier it got to campaign, the longer the campaign season lasted. Politicians now have the ability to instantly contact everyone in the nation, and the presidential campaign has been going on for about two years. The result is that by the time what was once the starting point finally gets here, most Americans are thoroughly sick of the whole thing.
But the same thing is true today as has always been true: The voters really don't pay attention to what the candidates are saying until that Memorial Day break. Before that, it's just useless chatter. After that, we're ready to start filtering the noise to separate the sense from the twaddle.
To make that call, we need to be careful how we judge the politicians. We can't rate them using the same standards of truth and deception, honesty and betrayal that we use in our dealings with ordinary people in everyday circumstances. That's a black-and-white way of looking at things, and politicians exist in the grayest of gray areas.
Politics was supposed to just be the way we entered government in this country, a mechanism to allow those ordinary people to serve for a while before returning to the real world to live under the rules they enacted. Somewhere along the way, politics became a career, the elected office the be all and end all. And these careerists must periodically beg the boss – that's us, the voters – to not fire them.
So, to please, us, they tell us what we want to hear. There may be few outright bald-faced lies, but there aren't many ironclad, honor-bound promises, either. Everything is nuanced, conditional, vague, ambiguous waffling.
The only way to judge a candidate's worthiness is not by his or her seeming verbal commitments. All we can do is try to determine, as best we can, which candidates most closely match our own values and worldviews.
If we get the big picture right, the little white lies the politicians tell us – and, alas, themselves as well – won't sting quite so much. They can think they're deceiving their constituents with the best of intentions, and we can let them think it.