Interesting Times

We Americans have fulfilled an ancient Chinese curse: We live in interesting times. Think for a moment about what’s going on in the world. The United States is taking on terrorist punks and trying to introduce freedom to even the most backward crannies of the globe. Our traditional allies may mutter and sputter, and our enemies may issue fatwas and videos, but we’re doing what comes naturally. We’re fighting on principle for the Little Guy.

Meanwhile, Americans on the home front are doing what they do best: shaking up the old order of things through sheer creative drive. Our economy has its stride again and we dominate world culture as never before. Even the French have decided that they can’t resist screening “The Passion of the Christ.” We’re doing this while uncorking far-reaching debates about such things as the truth of religion and the meaning of the word, “marriage.”

In short, the entire world is watching us with a combination of expectation and awe. Enemies hope we’ll stumble and fall; admirers pray we’ll succeed. But either way, we have become the center of things.

That being the case, you’d think this year’s presidential election would have electrified the nation. It hasn’t, though. Nobody much knows John Kerry. He won his party’s nomination mainly because he wasn’t a crazy man, and George W. Bush has spent most of the last six months in the political equivalent of house arrest. He has peeked out of the Oval Office from time to time to issue forgettable declamations (such as the State of the Union Address), but that has been it. Despite the fact that the nation’s fate and fortunes may hang in the balance when voters go to the polls in November, the race so far is a bore – and the president’s first wave of political ads actually has made things worse.

This will change, of course. Kerry will come under scrutiny for everything from his well-documented shifts on key issues to his record in Vietnam. (Why won’t he release his full records?) Meanwhile, the president will have to fight a two-front war, fending off spears from Democrats on his justification for ousting Saddam Hussein, while ducking punches from Republicans who detest his administration’s spending record and immigration plan.

I’ll analyze both guys’ predicaments some other time. For now, I’ll close with a prediction: Even though the electoral map says otherwise, this will not be a close election.  Americans will vote not just with their hearts and minds, but their stomachs. One guy or the other will become an object of breathtaking public disgust. I’ll tell you which one – later.