Sunday, October 19, 2008

America: Right of Center or South of Stupid?

Obama devotees (and I am one) may be inclined to see the ascendancy of their favorite as a great reawakening of the American body politic to its true self.

But I'm not so sure.

It's been 40 years since a significant portion of the populace shook off their torpor to inquire what the fuck, exactly, is going on here?! It was a volatile time, but that's not a bad thing. As lawful and tolerant as this country has typically been compared to just about anywhere else in the world you can think of, there's never been a shortage of black folks hanging from trees or support for murderous repressive foreign regimes. Rioting in the streets is an indication that at least somebody notices.

But that brief interval of optimism dissolved into successive decades of cynicism, jingoistic belligerence, superficial materialism, and finally--icing on the cake--the last eight years during which our country turned into your reprehensible cousin Todd, who lies, cheats, molests children, hits his mom and manufactures meth in the garage. Or at least that's what he was doing last time you visited and he stole your credit cards and ran up all those Internet porn charges.

So it's only natural that anyone eager to see the nation embrace ambitions loftier than gettin' rich and killin' A-rabs would speed to lash their dreams to this Democratic star from the windy city. That they would squint to see in this moment just what they so desperately want to see: the return of the true America of tolerance, moderation, compassion, and respect for intellect and accomplishment. This, they imagine, is not an America rendered temporarily placid by the anti-psychotic medications the international community begged her for years to take, but America casting off an evil magic spell and being itself again.

How very charming.

But forgive me. That's not what I see.

Perhaps I'm embittered beyond salvation. Give me lemons and I will take the seeds and the pith and make something so sour and rancid that it will blister your lips before it even hits your tongue. Or perhaps it's the profound discomfort with which I regard good times. When society is at rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. But if this is a shining renaissance, duck and cover, baby.

No, the thing that I find so striking about America inviting Obama into their living rooms is the mind boggling degree of coercion that was required to get them to unbolt their front doors.

I mean, yes, it looks like he's going to be President. But he's been staked to such an overwhelming advantage that it seems a bit odd to call what he's doing "winning."

How stacked is the deck in Obama's favor?

To the extent that all elections are a referendum on the party in power, the Democrats should be able to store the public disgust with the last eight years and use it to hold the executive branch for the next half century.

Is their anything the Bush administration hasn't bungled catastrophically?

The war in Iraq is an unqualified failure. Don't waste my time with some crap about the surge. Is that shiny penny supposed to distract us from the fact that when it's all over, what we will have obtained for our trillion dollar investment is a distinctly less-desirable strategic position in the middle east, responsibility for thousands if not millions of lives destroyed, and an indefensible squandering of our international prestige?

And maybe it's because we focused all our energies and resources on Iraq that the fabric of our foreign policy is in tatters. Truly critical issues of national security like the Palestinian situation, nuclear proliferation, and global warming have been either ignored or addressed only with the administration's favored pour-gasoline-light-match tactic. Then again, perhaps we should be thankful for the Bush administration's absurd obsession with Mesopotamia. Can you imagine what disasters would have befallen had they reserved more of this monumental incompetence and applied it to countries that matter?

Our Republican-led international failures are, if anything, exceeded by the swath of their domestic destruction. Let's set aside the torture, the domestic eavesdropping, the politicization of the justice department, and the alteration of the balance of powers so that our federal structure more nearly resembles the dictatorship our founding fathers always envisioned. Set them aside because, by modern conservatives, these are counted accomplishments. There's no point in arguing about it here. But what about the things Republicans are supposed to be good at? What about the ballooning size of government? What about the deficit? What about the economy, for chrissakes!?

OK. We know the Bush administration is awful. Maybe the worst ever. But John McCain is a man who has bucked the Republican party time and again, a war hero with a Roman sense of honor and public virtue, right? No wonder then that, despite our pitiful circumstances, more than 43% of our populace will vote against Obama.

Please.

The whole idea of John McCain as a formidable candidate has never been more than wishful thinking. He is but the faint distillate of his party's fragmentation. Events have shattered the tenuous alliance between social, political, and fiscal conservatives. To say that John McCain represents all these groups is to call half-full a glass that is all but empty.

McCain is the great compromise, wholly appealing to no constituency of his party. In fact, he doesn't have much in the "appeal" department at all. There are the physical tics. The explosive temper. The jokes that are--to put it generously--off-color. And the man can barely read off a teleprompter. Appropriately or not, these aesthetics impact electability. These things are McCain's "Kucinich ears."

Nor should we forgive McCain his Keystone Kampaign. Have we ever witnessed a more cringe-worthy attempt to become President? Michael Dukakis was every inch the conquering Caeser in that tank compared to Spastic John. Bill Ayers? The Fundamentals of the economy are strong? Sarah Palin? Sarah-freaking-Palin?! He's not just trying to give the election to Obama, he's personally installed it in the Democrat's living room!. And McCain's endless failed attempts at political suicide have rendered him a far more pitiful figure than if he had succeeded the first time he kicked over the chair.

So here is Barack Obama, running for office for the opposition party at a time of almost unprecedented public dissatisfaction, against a despised Republican President and the weakest Republican Presidential candidate in living memory running one of history's most botched campaigns. Yes, Obama appears headed for a solid, perhaps even a landslide electoral victory.

But given the circumstances--how could this thing be so close? What if the collapse of first-domino Lehman Brothers had been delayed for a few months? If you recall, the country was in pretty bad shape before the financial crisis, but could Obama have pulled ahead without that issue coming to the fore?

Perhaps real change is on the way for this right-of-center country, floating behind the cresting wave of the baby boomer die-off. Maybe the brilliance of an Obama administration will be the spark. But it's not here yet. The American majority may be settling comfortably into the Obama camp, but they had to be driven there at gunpoint.

7 comments:

Tom said...

Wow. I suspect the lady who sent this to me thinks I secretly wrote it , the congruency with my own thoughts is so high. The American public's ability to bring destruction upon ourselves has seemed like a badly car struck dog , whirling to snarl at our own devastated hindquarters. I hardly recognize the land of my birth.

Mark Lazen said...

But remember Tom--for people like you and I, it's our unwavering certainty of impending doom that lets us so enjoy brief moments of respite. A good cup of coffee. A child's smile. Or the first two weeks of Barack Obama's Presidency.

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