Practicing politics may be the new spectator sport

Last Sunday, an average of about 100 million Americans tuned their television sets to CBS to catch the most watched annual sporting event on TV. We grabbed the hot wings and pizza bites and celebrated the 50th annual Super Bowl. My family was among these. While none of us ever sport jerseys or painted faces, we nonetheless eagerly strategize the event for weeks, right down to picking the best party snacks. We are spectators. We love to watch the event; in fact, we treat Super Bowl Sunday almost as if it were a national holiday. Sadly though, the next day we will be talking more about the adorable commercials than discussing the highlights of the game.

This February is especially significant, and not simply because America will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of this nationally recognized tradition. The year 2016 marks the 58th quadrennial election for our nation’s president. Beginning in February and running until June, the primary elections will be the focus of our country’s politics. Candidates will debate their policies, tour key voting states, and seek to win America’s favor. How many of us will be tuning in?

In preparation for the Super Bowl, I had to face a sad reality. I am among those shallow fans who care very little for the actual game itself. I love the idea of being a Super Bowl watcher. I crave the salty snacks, and I rush to the TV to catch the funniest commercials. But the sad truth is that I remain mostly oblivious to the rival teams. My most embarrassing Super Bowl tradition is to wait until the same day pregame footage to learn which teams have made it to the final game. I like to say that I enjoy the element of surprise.

This sad truth does not embarrass me as much as the fact that I sometimes take the same approach to politics. For example, not long ago, I watched along with the rest of Tennessee citizens as Nashville’s prospective mayors vied for favor through the use of some nontraditional commercial campaigning. Some of these commercials tended to resemble an episode of Sesame Street (shoutout to David Fox’s namesake mascot). While these ads were probably not suitable as serious campaign material, the fact remains that I was completely uninterested in the election until the debates became sensational.

I hope for my sake that I am not the only Tennessee resident who followed the election primarily to discover if Nashville voters would choose a candidate who saw fit to enlist the help of a larger-than-life fox mascot. The responsibility of choosing our state capitol’s next mayor did not rest on my shoulders, so I was content to watch the drama unfold on my television screen. On the other hand, I desperately hope that the majority of American voters are following this year’s presidential election for more serious reasons than to simply catch the next scandalous comment that falls from Donald Trump’s mouth.

I realize that I am underestimating a sizable fraction of this article’s audience. If you’re reading a newspaper, chances are you are the type of person who seeks to stay informed. To you, I apologize. The responsibility of choosing our next president does not fall easily on your shoulders.

However, I suspect that we may be belittling this momentous task on a nationwide scale. As much as it hurts to point a finger at my own field of study, I cannot deny that the media has played its part in portraying the candidates as less than legitimate. For every blatant remark that Trump has let fly, there are likely five more images of his unique hair styling choices streaming online. These images are good for a laugh, but they distract from the real issues at hand. And while I agree that Donald Trump should respect the position for which he is campaigning (not to mention the diverse nation that come along with it), I am disappointed with the media’s blatant attempts to turn a presidential candidate into a spectacle.

We have forgotten how this election process works. Our main objective is to choose the candidate that fits our personal goals for bettering this country. We analyze each candidate’s consistency, integrity, and loyalty to his or her agenda. We listen to the objective they present, and we determine who has the character to withstand the pressures of this position.

Make no mistake. To a degree, this election is a popularity contest. Inevitably, some fraction of voters will choose the candidate whom they think has the greatest chance of being elected to office. Voters may not be far from my family tradition of following the Super Bowl simply to catch the quirky commercials and pizza bites. We have become sidetracked by the pomp and circumstance of election season. We are distracted by the late-night talk shows’ spoofs of disfavored candidates and charmed by the daytime talk shows’ loveable presidential endorsements. This is not a game. This is our future. Don’t get distracted.