That is not to say that nothing has changed or that it makes no difference who wins. In Roanoke, Chelsea’s son, Harrison, was born with two heart defects. Prior to Obama’s healthcare reforms, that could have meant a life of penury in which he could either be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, had to pay exorbitant rates or faced a lifetime cap on the amount his insurance provider would pay to cover him. Such changes, along with his executive order to halt the deportation of thousands of young undocumented immigrants or the Lily Ledbetter Act, protecting equal pay for equal work, or the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell for gays in the military, makes a crucial difference to many people’s lives.
So while one may argue that Obama’s impact has been too incremental or insufficient, it is untenable to claim that he has made no impact and no difference. Both parties have framed the coming five weeks as a choice between two different visions of the country. There is some truth to that. However, beyond the vague notion of “more fairness” or “less government,” few could tell you what those visions are. The problem is that neither choice actually answers the central and enduring problems the country is facing. Like Seinfeld, this election campaigns have become a show about nothing.
Meanwhile, the electoral industrial complex keeps churning out polls and analyses as though on a split screen, making the contest not about who or what will or could change, but just who will win, where and by how much. The horse race is seductive and not entirely avoidable.
However, my aim is to report from the other screen: where people live, love, survive and — all too rarely at present — thrive. To move beyond and between the narrow lens of two parties, fuelled by gaffes and donors, to gauge what people thought would change, think of what has changed and what they would like to change. To see to what extent they think this election will make a difference to their lives and what, if anything, that tells them about the state of the country they live in.