With expenditures projected at $5,800,000,000 the 2012 presidential and congressional elections will be the most expensive on record, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Campaign strategists estimate that 80% of the money spent is wasted, but the 20% which does hit its mark somehow does so through a public which has historically proven to be deeply cynical about political advertising.
It’s hard to see the substance through all the mudslinging and calculated cheering for American exceptionalism.
I started reading Candace Millard’s book on James A. Garfield’s unbidden rise to the Presidency of the United States last evening and I must confess I had to force myself to put it down long enough to write this post. Garfield is relatively unknown today, perhaps because his Presidency was cut short by an assassin, but his story bears retelling.
To make a long story short, Garfield detested the self-promotion so common in politicians in his time. He took the opposite approach and never sought public office, instead, it eventually and repeatedly sought him.
The most dramatic instance of this occurred during the 1880 Republican National Convention. Garfield was in attendance and gave an unprepared, albeit brilliant speech introducing one of the candidates that turned the tide of the convention and set in motion a wave that eventually – and against his personal preference – carried him to the White House.
On the second ballot, a Pennsylvania delegate named W.A. Grier cast a vote for James Garfield. His support stayed at one for a number of ballots thereafter, but on the thirty-sixth ballot Garfield won – to his personal astonishment – the Republican nomination with 399 votes.
Garfield went on to lead the first front porch campaign for the Presidency, an approach to stumping which stands in sharp contrast to the current election process. His reluctance to promote himself, coupled with his courageous willingness to stand by his own convictions, made him a truly exceptional person.
“I have always said that my whole public life was an experiment to determine whether an intelligent people would sustain a man in acting sensibly on each proposition that arose, and in doing nothing for mere show or demagogical effect.” – James A. Garfield