This is the part of summer where everything seems to have stopped. At the beginning of July I dropped deep into my own personal ocean, shutting myself away from the political world for about a month, and when I broke through the surface again next to nothing had changed. That’s typical of the kind of year it’s been.
Everything feels like it’s stuck in deep mud, politics especially. After several cycles where votes and power swung back and forth, the electorate is now sitting stubbornly still, refusing to be budged. Congress is indulging partisan fantasies and accomplishing next to nothing, while the presidential race is bogged down in minutiae about tax returns and verbal gaffes. The ads are everywhere, but they aren’t saying anything worth hearing.
Here in Connecticut, the Senate primaries are what they’ve been for a long time, with Linda McMahon and Chris Murphy enjoying comfortable leads. The 5th Congressional District’s primaries haven’t changed much since late spring, when the investigation into the Donovan campaign gave the other two Democrats in the race a golden opportunity that they have thus far failed to effectively exploit. The Republicans are spending money and lobbing insults, but nobody’s emerged as a frontrunner yet. No candidate in any race seems to have any kind of new, believable plan to get us out of this rut.
I could have written all of this on June 30. Maybe I should have, and given myself another week off. It’s summer, sure, and news is always kind of slow in the summer. This week we’ve got a homophobic fried chicken joint cluttering up the airwaves and all your relatives’ Facebook pages, while the big political story is that Mitt Romney’s staffers don’t like the press much.
I get it. Summers are news dead zones. Remember the “Summer of the Shark” when everyone was terrified of shark attacks? There’s nothing else to focus on, so we find distraction in the pointless. But this time it feels a little different. Part of it is that people are sick of politics; the last four years haven’t done away with the sharp divisions of the first decade of this century so much as they turned them from cracks into canyons. But also this particular summer lull feels tense to me, like we’re taking a collective breath before plunging into the difficult decisions we know are waiting for us. Because make no mistake, we can’t avoid them much longer.
What’s it going to be that snaps us out of it? The Post Office going into default? The federal budget armageddon that gets triggered if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year? Some kind of new economic disaster coming out of Europe? Another disastrous debt ceiling fight? Another kind of crisis we haven’t anticipated? I don’t know. But it feels like we’ve been waiting, wasting our time playing ideological games and shouting about nothing, for a long time now. We’re trapped in banality, an endless Summer of the Shark.
Of course, even that came to an end eventually. The summer of 2001 gave way to September, and everything changed.
I feel like that’s where we are. We’re waiting for a chance to make the tough decisions. We’re waiting for the moment when we have no other choice, when we have to humble ourselves before the future. We’re waiting for a major crisis to force us to chart out some way to save ourselves from a long, slow, painful decline. When the time comes, I believe we’ll rise to the occasion. But in the meantime, we’re stuck here in this endless summer, wasting time, trying not to look too far ahead.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.