(minor clarification: "the Mortician" is David Axelrod, for his dour visage, not Ms. Obama)
Ah, it had nothing to do with Kennedy. Still, all that vigor disappeared once he found out he couldn't get anything done.
Events, dear boy, events.
To emerge sane from the recent party conventions and the endurance test of a campaign ahead of us, one must block out most television coverage, now a carnival sideshow more useful for the revelatory subtext of elite disconnect and desperation rather than as reportage or commentary. MSNBC, once their coverage degenerated into the equivalent of a high school clique war, had me tuning in just to see if Matthews and Olbermann would finally consummate their disdain in flailing, flinching combat. Alas, our powdered and pancaked schoolyard brawlers have been separated. I will have to recourse to imagining how it might have played: the sound of their coats rustling against their microphones, their heavy breathing and curses as they grapple, in the background the chant from the convention floor, U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Jarring cut to a patriotism-themed Chevrolet commercial.
Still the antics of our television journalists were dignified in comparison to the degenerate discourse that passed for political speech-making at the Republican convention. The great democratic experiment is destroying its laboratory. Such concentrated absurdity I can take only in very small doses. So I'm left deliberately ignorant of the polls or consensus regarding the political raffle, relying on my faulty impressions, which usually fail.
Nonetheless I'm increasingly convinced that Barack Obama is doomed to disappoint despite, if not partly because of, John McCain's crass and corrupt attempt to trump the Democrats' race card with his own gender card. I'm not sure it matters any more. I feel like Henry Kissinger watching the Iranians and Iraqis go at it, lamenting they can't both lose, hoping for maximum carnage. Forget about lesser evils. The path of lesser evil has led us to the hell of mediocrity and corruption. I'm taking the advice of a bumper sticker I saw long ago, when things were nowhere near as bad: don't vote, it only encourages them. But I reserve my constitutional right to indulge in America's true pastime, complaint.
As for Senator Obama he projects, other than mediocrity made conspicuous by the media's studiously averted gaze, uncertainty--if one only dare look. His selection of the buffoonish but "safe" Joe Biden (holding all the cards, he checks nervously) betrays his lack of confidence. He's gotten way out in front of his plotted career trajectory, propelled there by a force he set in motion but now under its own creepy mass-delusional momentum. The man suggests something more than the usual politician's insincerity. It's there beneath the condescension of phony bipartisan comity and kitschy "eloquence"; his unsuitability to the task of taking the helm of a rudderless ship of state held in the aggregated current created by multiple corrupt factions. Does he hear the falls ahead?
Not only is the miraculous feat of racial unity his acolytes expect (bless their delusional hearts) impossible, but his actual goals, to the extent he has any beyond his cobbled together, platitudinous wish-list of a platform, are beyond the means of a government holding a ballooning debt obligation in an imploding economy (not to mention ever-expanding military commitments, guided by something bearing no resemblance to national interest, in a world hardening against us). Our politicians are promising change and change is coming, just not on their, or our, terms.
It's the fear of change that motivates us, as always, despite the quadrennial phony demands for it. The public pretends it wants change and politicians pretend they can deliver it. Despite the mantra we, naturally, fear change, no matter how necessary.
Likewise, Barack Obama's campaign is more nostalgic than forward-looking or reformist. The Democrats have the problem of complicity in the same criminal travesty that promises to return them to power. The time has come for a fundamental reorientation of foreign policy and public indebtedness, but the Democrats are as incapable of or unwilling to address these dangerously related issues as the Republicans. Aside from their disingenuous call to reform, their partly diversionary answer to our predicament is to revisit the now corrupt and anachronistic civil rights movement. It's their strong suit after all. They've produced a sequel of their biggest hit. Much of the public and the political center is lining up to see it. It's a heck of a lot less trying than a fundamental reconsideration of our role in the world.
Barack Obama is successful not because we despair for the state of race relations--quite the opposite. He's successful because we wish to insulate ourselves with the comforting myth of the civil rights movement--because, contrary to the Democrats' never-ending, opportunistic appeals to racial resentment and hysteria, legal equality and civil rights we do better than anyone else in the world. We do it so well we don't know when to stop. We've decided it works for all ills and injuries, here applying it like a balm on a broken back, when the patient needs to be in traction. Combine it with our other obsessive compulsions, self-congratulation and promotion, and Barack Obama is inevitable.
9-11 broke our confidence and Iraq hasn't, as hoped, repaired it. We want to subsume the criminal horrors of the war within a narrative of "victory"; we want the easy credit bacchanal to resume; we want cheap gas and cheap thrills; we want the world to recede back into the murk beyond the electronic ether of "reality" television (what an ironic concept); we want to continue to insulate and inoculate; above all, we want to feel good about ourselves. It's a form of kitsch.
Politicians, with their monomaniacal ambition and endless rationalizations for the corruption, rapine and bloodshed they sometimes engage in and sometimes ignore, are alien creatures to the common man, but they're the common man's creations. They reflect back on us; they are the living embodiment of our decadence. And this year we are enraptured by two egos in possession of corpses channelling competing narratives of personal suffering and turmoil. It's the first election of the Oprah era.
The Economist, achieving exquisite oblivion as only the combination of sophistication and convention can, recently ran a cover of our two presidential candidates under the banner,"America at its Best". Let's hope not.
The Democratic Party presents its candidate as the long awaited antidote to the timeless disease of racial strife. The party has so long told the lie, and acquired so many store front preachers of the false but profitable faith that arises from it--the lie being that racial discrimination and inequality are the distinct products of white imperfection (without irony), to be corrected by the stern hand of government intervention--that it has fallen for its own con, and is no longer in a position to manage it. There is no turning back now, and the aging party members hope that somehow, some way, it will all resolve peacefully and profitably. But an inherent contradiciton ultimately has to be resolved, and if your contradiction is that your demographic is inherently evil but you are not because you recognize it and wish to atone by force of law (you are one of the good ones), you may find yourself without a chair when this music stops (see Clinton, 2008). Perhaps this explains the appeal of the "Hope" mantra, all but chanted with closed eyes and palms turned heavenward.
The very resentments and passions Obama conjures threaten to consume him, whether in electoral defeat or in executive failure. Cold comfort can be taken in the fact that there really is only so much any president can do, despite the expansive powers of the office. We should turn the Klieg lights of celebrity away from candidates and spotlight those around them.
But the man is unsuited, despite all the cloying, conspicuous gushing of a press that retains its liberal bias only where it will do the most harm, so eager to praise the intelligence and character of a black figure, any black figure who doesn't threaten to upset things too much and take his rhetoric too seriously. If it isn’t already a Chris Rock joke it should be, this impulse.
Of course Barack Obama does take his worst rhetoric seriously (what he modestly describes as the "big heart" forever in conflict with his political "hard head"--foist such megalomaniacal characters on yourself at your peril, America), but no one, not even his political opposition, wants to be caught noticing. The man's reliance on forty-year old political assumptions indicates not just a disturbing radicalism but an adolescent intellect. But even in counting on his lack of sincerity--as witnessed by the Wright controversy--his admirers build on his myth.
The Obama phenomenon resembles an all-night group cocaine bender, with everyone blathering away, betraying and ignoring the same desperation evident behind the dilated pupils and in the cheaply conjured, shallow fraternity; loss in the election or failure in office will be the hard comedown of the following morning, with the sickly morning light coming through the blinds, when everyone realizes it’s over, that they’re not really going to go vacationing together next summer, all the talk now a bit embarrassing…
It seems it will all resolve in recrimination for the “racism” that just wouldn’t let America finally reconcile her history of slavery and segregation. The tantrums will be entertaining at least. I’m sure some have already dim outlines of their “America’s Shame Continues” pieces.
And it is a shame, what with the neocons on the other side (or, rather, more heavily represented on the other side); why not make the Great Gesture and get it over with, one is tempted to say, the inevitable disappointment when Obama and the Mortician move into their new digs and realize the place is haunted to the rafters and the closets all filled with skeletons. Let the people and all the earnest twenty-something keyboard hotshots get their first lesson that human nature, resentment, bigotry, etc will not be vanquished by token. Used to be we realized human imperfection wasn’t the province of governance but its confounding influence.
And who knows, Barack might prove capable of wise selection from the cacophony of competing voices and jockeying hangers-on, and might manage to restore some constitutional integrity, arrest or turn back some corrupting trends, despite the fact that in Chicago’s target-rich environment he always opted on the side of the Machine. And it is depressing how consistently he did.
Governer Palin (who, by the way, I like--for governor of Alaska) may be McCain's gamble but it's a gamble that promises (or threatens) to pay off big; every time Obama calls attention to her lack of heft he calls attention to his own, and an apparent inversion of his ticket's arrangement in this regard. But my favorite line comes from Politico, touting Obama/Biden's "forty years" of foreign policy experience--36 for Joe and four (rounding upwards) for Barack. Four years spent preparing this presidential run, as Obama himself noted would be necessary when asked about a possible presidential bid about the time he took the oath as a senator. He's rightly called on his presumption, but the real problem is with the opportunists about him. There's a charming, callow honesty to be found in the Senator's written and spoken record, which constitutes an epic ode to power (his first book is almost entirely a paean to power, and how it is achieved) in stark contrast to his contortionist campaign; more evidence his success has overtaken his wildest dreams.
But I suspect the Wonder Brother will lose, because he has no business being president and it's obvious (understanding the far more qualified candidate seems the far greater evil--and all that implies for the health of our system), leaving race relations rawer than ever, with Joe Lieberman as Secretary of State and Rudy Guiliani as Attorney General, God knows who else in the cabinet; meanwhile the party goes on at AEI, AIPAC, etc. As for us, we've run out of blow, and it's getting light outside.