Rejecting the blame game
If Florida must have another hurricane, would it be too much to ask that it not happen on Election Day? Of course I'm worried about the effect meteorological mayhem might have on voter turnout. But even more terrifying is the possibility that any last-minute natural disasters in swing states could finally push each candidate over the rhetorical cliff to which they have both been racing all year.
"My opponent," I can imagine each of them saying, "turned a small rainstorm into a Category 4 hurricane. He made it rain!"
Whatever the event, however indirectly related to the future of the republic, each candidate has seemed to be instantly ready with a bottomless well of sound-bite blame for virtually anything that happens in the cosmos. Take these randomly selected actual headlines from this week's news. Imagine how the pervasive politics of blame would probably play out:
Investigators Fault Co-Pilot's Actions in Crash That Killed 265
Bush: My opponent voted against every bill that would have supported improved pilot training and flight safety.
Kerry: It was this president's National Transportation Safety Board and they were asleep at the switch.
Inmate Charged With 15-Year-Old Murder
Bush: This says everything I want to say about my view of crime and criminals. They can run but, even after 15 years, they can't hide.
Kerry: What kind of broken, incompetent criminal justice system takes 15 years to find a cold-blooded killer? An inept and underfunded one.
Sara Lee Profits Rise 53 Percent on Payout
Bush: Americans are eating again. They have decisively rejected my opponent's politics of scarcity and low calories.
Kerry: When the best evidence of economic growth the president can present is the fact that we're eating more frozen custard pies, we're in trouble indeed.
Nicole Kidman Talks About New Film
Bush: The film industry, our gift to the world, is thriving and we are going to keep it that way. And Nicole was the essence of American courage in "Cold Mountain."
Kerry: What the president will never admit is that Nicole Kidman and others like her are being forced to outsource their films to low-wage overseas economies. Sure, she was hot in "Eyes Wide Shut," but that was filmed in England.
Scientists Find Skeletons of Miniature People
Bush: We will hunt down every miniature skeleton. My opponent would leave these skeletons in place to menace future generations.
Kerry: How long did my opponent ignore these little people? Why didn't he rescue them before they became fossils?
The point isn't that politicians do not bear responsibility for their actions. Sometimes blame is fair. Policies have consequences. But when hyperventilating campaign war rooms are more concerned with accusation than with accountability, voters are cheated out of a chance to make judgments based on policy.
So remember, if it rains on Election Day, blame the clouds, not the candidates. And if you stay home, blame yourself.
• Steven M. Gorelick is a college administrator at the City University of New York.