28 January 2008

The Beale World

I have been reluctant to comment openly about the Democratic and Republican nomination campaigns for a number of reasons, not least of which is the interminable ramble already being given them by media outlets in the United States. CNN, with its self-proclaimed "Best Political Team on Television" (as the network incessantly reminds viewers), is by far the worst offender, jack-hammering away at the same events and issues with particularly pernicious vapidity, but it's no less guilty than the panoply of other outlets passing off pointlessly speculative political yammering as insightful documentation and analysis. The effects of all this prattle are two-fold, depending on one's response to it: either one becomes addicted to it, a junkie demanding one's daily fix, or one becomes inured to it, a cynic begging, pleading, for a reprieve from constant clamour. I'm convinced that if there is a Hell, at least one of its tortures is a steady stream of American political coverage, a kind of Promethean punishment for those unable to extract themselves from their couch-potato related sins. It'd be a Dantescan punishment by way of Paddy Chayefsky, but a Dantescan one nonetheless.

Yet, I think we may, finally, be entering the peace before the General Election storm. The worst of the acrimony and contempt seems finally to be petering out, and the results coming largely to naught. The Republicans seem to be inching closer to accepting John McCain as their date to the prom, hesitant as they may be about it, while the Clintonian implosion of the past few weeks has probably all but coronated Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee. Today's endorsement of Obama by Sen. Edward Kennedy may finally have tipped the scales in the latter: in a stunningly scrupulous rejection of self-interested slash-and-burn politics, Sen. Kennedy may well have directed Democrats away from immediate immolation. Make no mistake: this is a Good Thing. Democrats, like Hamlet, are usually their own worst enemies, destroying themselves rather than their opponents. In recent weeks, the Clintons all but discredited themselves from the running not so much by any particular action but by demonstrating the willingness to return the party to internecine warfare, and while that may have worked well enough in other circumstances, the current ones demand otherwise. People are mad as Hell about politics as usual, and they're not going to take it anymore.

But, I think, it's also about people being furious about the various forms of fury itself. One of the reasons Senator Clinton was given a reprieve by Democrats in New Hampshire and Nevada was the vulturous behaviour of media figures like Andrew Sullivan, whose insistently vituperative derangement about the Clintons was perhaps the best gift he could have given them. Sullivan, though by no means alone in his position, represents the kind of 90s vitriolic, visceral and counter-sensical monomania that fed American politics of the past fifteen years, and people have seen where such thinking has led them. The Clintons, similarly, represent the win-at-all-costs strategy, and they're being rejected, too, though it's probably crucial that Democrats are doing the rejection of them on their own terms, and not those of others. (The same is true of Romney, whose over-packaged "say anything" campaign is being received with relative ambivalence.) The media generally are being punished, too, with last-minute mind-changes and disingenuous self-reporting, it seems, designed to throw all of that polling, prognostication and general gotcha-ism into disrepute. The electorate seems to be asking, "You think you know what are issues are," before immediately answering with a stern, "No. No, you don't." There's a whole lot of whoop-ass to go round, and voters seem very much unafraid to dole it out. Howard Beale would be proud.

And yet, for all that anger, for all that a-pox-on-all-your-houses kind of fury, the voters in both parties seem to be leaning toward the figures who represent at least some kind of integrity and some kind of trans-party appeal. McCain is about the only Republican candidate with a chance of winning Democratic voters, while Obama is the only Democratic one capable of doing the reverse. Neither are ideal candidates, but they serve in counter-point to one another, with McCain the voice of experience and Obama the voice of youth (I will not say "hope," a word now largely bereft of meaning in this context). All those of ideas of political predestination that once surrounded Clinton and Giuliani are on the verge of being relegated to the historical junk-heap, and all the political calculus that had become conventional wisdom in recent years is already there. It's as if voters have become cynical about-- wait for it-- cynicism and they're responding in kind, as well they should. It has been a long time in the coming, and while this could, admittedly, be premature, it's almost cause for-- dare one say?-- hope.


zelda said...

hey, what's new with you? we need a new post!

Dr J said...

*sigh* Who has time? I have no idea how you manage to keep your page updated. You're either more disciplined or more energetic than I. (Or both.)