Unofficially, I'm still jacked-up on politics - Daniel Silliman

Officially, I don't care about this presidential debate.

I decided years ago I wouldn't be voting Republican in '08 and I decided, months ago, which Democrat I would support in the presidential primary, so there's really no reason for me to watch the GOP contenders fielding questions. It's definitely not for any deep analysis of this country's troubles, because the candidates are answering in 90-second bytes. It's definitely not for the suspense, because I'm not watching the debate live. I'm watching the rerun.

It's Saturday, and I'm glued to C-SPAN, watching the debates.

Maybe I'm watching because I care about this country's direction and want to know where the country's conservatives want to go, after seven years of executive power. Maybe my motives are a little lower than that, and I'm watching because I bet a buddy $100 that Rudy Giuliani couldn't translate terrorist attacks into a nomination, and I'm flabbergasted that it looks like I'm losing. I mean, besides being in New York when the planes crashed, what did he have to do with it?

I don't know why I'm doing this, but I'm watching and I'm weirdly fascinated. There's something amazing about this: These men are trying to turn the country and conservatism toward their own ends, by force of rhetoric and political machinery.

It's like watching a little boy try to hoist up a piano with a jump rope run over a curtain rod pulley. It's like watching a teenager try to turn a broken-down car by grabbing the wheels and pulling. It's like watching someone try to build a space ship without a diagram. There's something vaguely mechanical and scientific, about the effort, and something overwhelmingly, ridiculously, hubristic.

The mechanics of politics are odd. They're dirty and idealistic at the same time, somehow operating under both the highest and lowest opinions of human nature. While the presidential contender is divided between egomania and real concern, and splits time between folksy-looking stunts and rhetorical punches, the team scurries around behind the candidate in another set of weird self-divisions.

The team is always divided between paid hacks, who love the process and think of the candidate as a product, and the newbies, high schoolers and college kids, who love the candidate and dream about making better days happen. They work -- jangling through phone lists, stuffing mailers, pounding doors -- in an emotional state that combines a beatific vision with a crystal meth rush.

I swore all that off, a long time ago. One depressing hoopla of a state convention -- watching an organizer freak out over the mechanics of sign distribution, seeing an entire delegation stop voting when a senator's blonde daughter walked by, hearing a vital platform argument abandoned to beat traffic -- was enough for me. I got my fix and got out.

At least, I think I got my fix. Last week, I found myself reading up on Adlai Stevenson's political races, and this week, I'm plowing through a book about the '72 election, reading about the Democrat's Wisconsin primary. And then I find myself here, watching a debate which I officially don't care about.

I'm trying to avoid the other way to explain the fact I'm watching this candidate debate. I don't want to admit I'm addicted to politics, just like the rest of this country, where we're all so goofed-up on politics that everything from music to movies, French fries to weather, airport security to primary colors, is understood politically.

Please no, I'm not like that.

But here I am, watching C-SPAN on a Saturday and wondering about the point spread on the Iowa caucuses.

Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 254, or via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.