Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Nation of Snark

The poll numbers, for what they are worth, seem to have settled back to pre-convention levels after the tumultuous two weeks caused by Gov. Moosehead's arrival on the political scene. The conventional wisdom says that the post-convention bounce for Team McSame has worn off, as has the Palin flavor-of-the-week phenomenon.

But that analysis, right though it may be, begs a rather obvious question: how on earth did McSame get a "bounce," given what a laughably dreary convention the GOP threw; and why didn't Obama get anything like the same buzz, given how spectacular the Democratic convention was by the standards of such things?

One explanation, it seems to me, is that we are now living in the Nation of Snark.

Though it has only entered my vocabulary recently, the term "snarky" is about 100 years old. It originated in British slang to describe someone who was irritable, carping, testy, nasty. Snark is what happens when bitterness and anger go out to have a good time. In other words, the Republican Party, and John McSame, is its true and rightful heir.

While Obama has been busy trying to appeal the better angels of our nature, McSame has been appealing to the snarky percentage of the electorate. These are the people for whom the cheap shot is more important the point well-made; for whom ethical behavior is defined by contestants on Big Brother; and for whom the sports analogy applies to politics: win at all costs.

The astonishing (at least to my eyes) reaction Gov. Moosehead got was not really because people agreed with her on issues (or even knew what her position was on issues) but because she wore vulgar t-shirts, laughed at a cancer survivor on the radio, and generally displayed a frat-boy attitude. What was clear from the moment of her debut was that she was just as snarky as the rest of us. We loved her, if only briefly, for that.

And it was clear that she is just as snarky as McSame - contemptuous, smirking, full of bile. Indeed her selection smacks of nothing so much as a ploy taken straight from an episode of Survivor.

In his speech in Denver Obama exhorted that we are a better nation than this. That was arugably one of the best lines of American political oratory to have been uttered in a generation. The problem with it may be that it isn't true. If McSame and the Moosehead win this election, it will demonstrate that we are no longer a nation that believes in aspiration, but a nation of snarks instead.