It’s only August, but November certainly feels a whole lot closer.
When the presidential stakes are at their highest, so are the extremes in behavior, even among those who normally don’t take it to the limit.
Two so-far-unidentified attendees at the Republican National Convention threw peanuts at a CNN camerawoman and said, “This is what we feed animals.”
Patricia Carroll told Richard Prince, author of the online column Journal-Isms, “I hate that it happened, but I’m not surprised at all.”
Carroll told Prince no one took the names of the pair and she did not know what state’s delegation they were with, although a delegation official told her the assailants must have been alternates, not delegates, although what difference that would have made is unclear.
"This situation could happen to me at the Democratic convention or standing on the street corner. Racism is a global issue," she told Prince in a telephone interview from Tampa.
"You come to places like this, you can count the black people on your hand. They see us doing things they don't think I should do."
Meanwhile, the chief of Yahoo News’ Washington bureau, was fired after a quip on a hot mic telling a host on an ABC News web show that presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican Party were “happy to have a party with black people drowning,” referring to Hurricane Isaac which hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast this week.
“David Chalian's statement was inappropriate and does not represent the views of Yahoo!. He has been terminated effective immediately. We have already reached out to the Romney campaign, and we apologize to Mitt Romney, his staff, their supporters and anyone who was offended," Yahoo said in a statement.
Mia Love, an African-American rising star in the GOP, was viciously attacked with racist remarks on her Twitter and Wikipedia pages after she spoke at the Republican National Convention this week. Posts on her page called her “a dirty worthless whore” and “House Nigger.”
The attacks in her case, though, backfired, sparking an increase in donations to the Utah mayor’s congressional campaign.
There have been other incidents, but you see where this is headed.
Each party will certainly look at each incident and use it as fodder to say the opposing party is led by and full of intolerant bigots, hoping that people who consider themselves more tolerant, of course, would side with the wronged party.
The other possibility, though, is that people who are fed up with all the drama and nastiness may sit out the election.
The numbers are all over the place, but various polls have estimated that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of Americans are either undecided or considering not voting at all.
A Suffolk University and USA Today poll last week found 2 in 5 Americans say they are thinking of staying at home on Election Day.
That certainly would hurt both candidates, but Obama most of all, perhaps. He leads Romney 43 percent to 14 percent among those seemingly unlikely voters, but nearly a quarter (23 percent) said they would vote for a third party candidate before voting for Romney.
Nineteen percent either refused to say how they would vote or that they remain undecided.
An analysis by scholars from Rutgers and George Washington Universities about the impact of negative campaigning found that the negative campaigning is not a necessarily effective way of winning votes, although it does seem to stimulate knowledge about the campaign, nor does it seem to affect voter turnout, although “it does slightly lower feelings of political efficacy, trust in government, and possibly overall public mood.”
While voter turnout in 2008 was high, 56.8 percent of registered voters, no race has come to the 63.1 percent of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race or the 61 percent of Johnson-Goldwater in 1964. Voters tend to turn out when they believe they have something to vote for, rather than against.
Those in a cynical mood may decide there is no harm-no foul in lashing out at a perceived opponent – a presumed liberal media minority – or to assume the position of a candidate and/or political party regarding a certain group of the electorate.
Neither campaign wants to be viewed as inspiring these recent ugly episodes, but worst of all, democracy could be the loser if voters decide they have had enough of the whole lot of them.