I've been watching C-SPAN's campaign coverage with the television on mute. If you watch "Road to the White House" the way I watch it, it's just a show about facial expressions, hopefully presidential features, odd backdrops and set pieces meant to be America.
What happened was, I got a phone call while it was on, and I hit the big round MUTE button and walked away. When I came back, the TV was showing a silent, close-up of Rudy Guilliani's face.
He moved through the facial expressions: Compassion, seriousness, consternation, authority, commitment, optimism. His mouth did funny things, probably meant to properly arrange the wrinkles around his eyes.
I started thinking about which three facial expressions I'd most like to see in a presidential hopeful, however. I decided on "shock," "awe," and "trapped inside a glass box." He'd be like a mime with gravitas. He'd also have an adequate response to all those tricky foreign policy problems.
In Rudy Guilliani's half hour of uncut politicking, he seemed most likely to express consternation. I think maybe it was supposed to be seriousness, but without the sound on, all I could gather was the look that was part squint, part constipation, part self-seriousness.
To be bipartisan, though, the Democrat's leading white male, John Edwards, seemed to rely on a facial expression I can only describe as "pinched." And that's not even an emotion.
My muted viewing of C-SPAN showed more than faces, of course. While the camera operators clearly loved the close-ups, they also shot a lot of scenic footage, showing all types of stump-speech settings. There was dairy equipment, there were cornfields, and there were knots of people in plain, mutli-use buildings called "Town Halls." There was enough scenic shots in the "Road to the White House" that there's probably another version which focuses on the literal roads of Iowa, and what you really see there.
I was in Iowa only once. It wasn't an election year, so maybe the place is different when all people who want to be the most powerful person in the world aren't there. I don't know. I saw it from a bus, on a route that was designed to lazily wander over the state's rolling cow pastures and little towns, around it's little lakes and big cornfields, through it's tiny towns and vast parking lots.
We had lunch in a local place. No one there was talking politics. No one there was talking hot political issues. I'm sure they cared about the war and taxes, health care and the minimum wage, immigration and social security, but that's not what they were talking about. When I sat there, a man was talking to his waitress about fixing up a truck for a 16-year-old, two teen girls were talking about an animation, an older woman was talking about a wedding, and a tow trucker driver was explaining his diet plan.
The only political talk I saw going on was in the graffiti in the bathroom.
It was a lot more interesting than any campaign speech or any pundit explanation I've ever heard.
I have no doubt that every presidential candidate really loves America. I do doubt, though, that they know this place. They know their supporters, sure. They know the political landscapes, party leaders, poll numbers and the America of baseball, mom, apple pie and kissable babies.
But that doesn't picture most of the country. Most of the America is "fringe."
America, if you turn up the sound, includes the president of Brittany Spears' fan club, and Michael Jackson's number-one supporter. It includes the curator of slam poetry readings and the guy who builds custom cars and a guy who genetically engineers salmon. It includes seminarians, who don't believe in God, and anarchists, who do. It includes tattoo artists, who used to be financial planners, and treasure hunters, who used to repair air conditioners.
It includes a man who builds yacht furniture, hardworking telemarketers, teddy bear collectors, Branch Davidians, gold speculators and people who watch C-SPAN with the sound turned all the way down.
There's an endless, un-enfranchised, and silent fringe in this country.
There's a whole circus of us out here, off the beaten road to the White House. You can only hear it, though, if you mute the politicians, pundits and party members, and turn up every everyone else.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.