Friday, August 29, 2008

Four Increasingly Esoteric Thoughts About Politics

§ 1: Picking Sarah Palin strikes me as a very poor decision. A lot of people are calling it savvy (a PR term for "cynical"), but I think that given a little time it will prove very clumsy. Of course, Obama & co. have to tread gingerly when they assail her lack of experience, but this doesn't mean they can't exploit it. As a presidential candidate, Obama has plenty of chances to convince people that he is ready -- he will either do so or he won't. Palin doesn't really have that luxury. Not only will she not get the same amount of media coverage to make her case, having to make the case at all unavoidably reminds people why it is an issue in the first place ... because McCain is older than the dirt that makes up more dirt. Does he seriously want his age & health to be in the back of people's mind, especially as they watch videos of Obama playing hoops and lifting weights? (Maybe if McCain's captors in Vietnam had served more arugula he'd look more lively and vivacious.) Of course, what do I know, Palin may well poach scores of female Democratic & independents voters who (a) are vehemently opposed to abortion (even in instances of rape & incest), (b) are against gay marriage (& health benefits for the domestic partners in same-sex couples), (c) don't care about getting equal pay as a man (unless, that is, she is determined to convince McCain otherwise on this), (d) hate polar bears, and (e) think that human activity has nothing to do with climate change. Oh, and how can I forget, independent women who, like Palin, thought Bush was too moderate and supported super-isolationist Pat Buchanan during the 2000 general election. Barring that, at least she'll be the Far Right's seasonal pin-up girl. Welcome to your base, Senator McCain.

§ 2: After watching Obama's speech last night, I really have a hard time seeing him lose the election. While I've not drank the Kool-Aid on him, and still support him for naively Leftist reasons, I simply cannot envision a defeated Obama. (Note: In the event of a McCain victory, it's so much that I'd be disappointed -- I'm far beyond that at this point. Simply speechless.) He is successfully speaking to the country's better angels, and this might be one of the few times in recent history that the country is open to that. Maybe this is due in part to the crises of climate change and economic decay, to the dread that we are most threatened by those things we cannot help but create. While I don't necessarily put a lot of hope in Obama & co. leading the way on adequately addressing these issues, I do think there is a certain power in a promise believed -- even when that promise is a half-truth (at best). Obama's claims of being post-partisan should be believed, I say, if only because doing so, against Obama's intentions surely, creates a kind of hyper-partisanship, which in effect opens the way to a kind of revolution in the way we as a people set priorities and/or cast our attention.

§ 3: When a lot of people read something like that last sentence, they instinctively and dismissively think I'm describing a utopia, and point out that what I'm arguing for leads to gulags and mass executions. And I say, yes, it can and has. The better angels of our nature rarely win out for too long. But we appeal to them not because they are safe, but because the failure to do so causes us to forget and/or repress the revolutionary kernel of our being: the possibility of creating ourselves as something different. The betrayal of the Other in ourselves, e.g., the rejection without question or pause of a new set of possibilities that do not map out onto the contours of our country's prized pragmatism, is perhaps more destructive than even our persecution of the Other "out there" -- the one(s) we believe threatens us. The latter is deadly, but (typically realized in retrospect) impotent and pathetic. How can one faithfully identify foreign threats when one is not willing to identify the fundamental threat one poses to oneself? Who should trust such a person?

§ 4: We Westerners are a depraved people, for whom our politics are well-suited. This is why many of us say we're more interested in the strategy than the policy, and why one can watch 24-7 cable news coverage of politics and never hear a discussion of what a policy actually means (only how it sells!). But if the religions across the world teach us anything of value it is that redemption or enlightenment emerge only from the depths of our depravity. Would that this be true, and for a moment our depravity got us somewhere productive.