�Americans are the only people I
know who believe their own propaganda.� --Deborah Eisenberg, American writer
I think relatively few observers appreciate the severe
limits of America�s 18th century Constitution, the document shaping offices
which so many now scramble to fill. Change does not come easily, no matter how
eloquent the speeches, how worthy the promises, or how great the need. It would
be easier to raise the Titanic intact than to make one authentic change of
consequence in America.
The only exception is war, a form of destructive change
which occurs with about the same frequency as elections in America. Most
members of both parties unfailingly vote for it, support it with additional
votes, make no apologies, and utter drivel about fighting for freedom. To do
otherwise is regarded as unpatriotic and, in many parts of America, as downright
America stopped declaring war after 1941 because it was too
inefficient. War was put on an assembly line basis. Now, senators and others
briefly huddle before the Pentagon is ordered to bomb the shit out of some
unfortunate people. In the process, the president is elevated temporarily to
Caesar, never to be seriously questioned before the corpses are all counted. It
is an unfortunate matter of style in Bush�s case that Caesar more closely
resembles Garfield Goose than Augustus, so treating Bush with imperial
reverence always has a certain absurdity about it, but absurdity is never
allowed to get in the way of some serious destruction.
Barack Obama is said to be about change, and I think that he
is, but the change he represents is in his thoughtfulness, tone of voice, and
eloquent selection of words, important enough after seven years of Bush�s
visceral stupidity and consistent appeal to the lowest human instincts. Obama
is a decent, thoughtful politician, something not seen in the White House for a
long time, and there is no more powerful argument for the importance of
intelligence and reflection in high office than the grim reality of Bush.
Obama has what Americans like to call "class," a
form of grace that is almost indefinable and very rare in American national
politics. There are echoes in his speech of John Kennedy with just a light
touch of Dr. King�s cadences. He has the same effortless ability to deliver a
line with subtle force. Most importantly, Obama literally breathes a sense of freshness
and honesty, something which cannot be taught by the media consultants who
infest these campaigns like blowflies in raw wounds.
When Hillary Clinton recently attacked Obama for raising too
many hopes with his words -- an accusation more revealing of Clinton�s
character than Obama�s -- his answer flowed so naturally and with such quiet
force of truth that his words seemed to provide a defining moment. Clinton
brittlely insisted that change came only through steady hard work, something
apparently she to the exclusion of others had done all her life, but the only
truth she succeeded in communicating was that she was ready to put her head
down like Bob Cratchit with no greater purpose than to fill a record number of
forms, while giving off whiffs of sour attitude. Not a hint of grace there.
There is, at times, something painfully reminiscent of Bob
Dole in Hillary Clinton. Dole, always a bitter man, even when he made a joke,
communicated a sense that he was somehow entitled to high office because he grew
up in Kansas and did his newspaper route faithfully and was injured in the war.
Clinton�s self-serving stuff about hard work is Bob Dole Lite.
Clinton has been terribly abused in her public life, abused
while First Lady by savage personal attacks from Republicans and, importantly,
by her own husband�s stingingly-embarrassing behavior. That history may well
explain some of her Bob Dole quality, but people do not vote for a national
leader out of sympathy for a bitter past, or at least they should not.
Clinton has shown yet another unpleasant aspect of herself
in this campaign: her excruciatingly bad acting talent. First, there was that
(recorded) use of Southern drawl when speaking in the South, then there were
all those photo-ops with her face fixed in a determined, big-eyed Howdy Doody
smile, and only recently, there was the quavering voice and whimpering sounds
about it all being for America in reply to a question about how she continued
her battle. She is simply terrible at doing these things, and I am sure it is
obvious to all astute readers of human communication. The impression made is
As for Clinton�s argument that she has great experience, it
simply eludes me. Clinton spent her White House years swinging between the
political fights of her husband, being called names in return, and baking
cookies in a frilly apron. I think we know which was the genuine Clinton: the
cookies were another form of repellently insincere communication.
But insincere communication works in America, the public�s
being so heavily conditioned by advertising and marketing. Clinton�s whimper in
New Hampshire stands with more historic events like Nixon�s Checkers speech,
almost enough to make those sensitive to language puke.
A word here about Clinton�s unexpected (narrow) win in New
Hampshire after polls said she would lose: I am convinced the only factor
responsible for this was a brief demonstration at an appearance of hers by some
oafs chanting about her getting back to the ironing board. The event, hardly
noted nationally, is said to have been well broadcast in New Hampshire. Coming
shortly before the vote, it undoubtedly caused a swing with women voters who
generally like Obama. You might think those ironing-board oafs were executing a
clever Republican plan to promote Clinton indirectly since I am sure she is
seen as the more vulnerable ultimate opponent.
My observation about the importance of intelligence in high
office instantly excludes from that office John McCain, whose facade of
freshness and independent-mindedness during the 2000 campaign was stripped away
in a series of belly-crawling apologies to the Religious Right and Bush, a
performance crowned by a tearful, knees-bent, televised hugging of Bush around
the middle, reminding one of a tableau from a 17th century artist showing a
follower touching Christ�s garment.
And talk about pride in stupidity, McCain actually said
recently that he would have invaded Iraq even without the issue of weapons of
mass destruction. But McCain never saw a bombing run he didn�t like -- one of
the main reasons he is supported by that shriveled ghoul, Senator Lieberman --
and he has a vicious temper, undoubtedly inherited from father the admiral.
Five and half years in a Vietnamese prison taught him nothing: he still believes
he was doing the Lord�s work when he was shot down while bombing civilians in
the Hanoi area.
And just on aesthetic grounds, McCain looks as puffy and
lumpy and weather-beaten as original equipment tires from a 1929 Ford. If
McCain lasted long enough to serve his term, he�d resemble King Tut�s unwrapped
mummy by the end.
Knowing the real limits on change in America offers a
dramatic backdrop to John Edwards� rhetoric about controlling corporations,
heavy on melodrama and chipper optimism and short on analysis. Edwards is a
phony pitchman, a kind of secular televangelist, although he�s not consistently
secular since his vision of America is generously larded with �God bless� and
sentimental, quasi-religious clap-trap.
Good Lord, America is today nothing but corporations.
Between its corporations and the countless colonial wars serving their
interests, you pretty much have the central story of modern America.
Most American politicians often use the word �consumers�
instead of �citizens� when addressing voters today, revealing the mind-set. The
laws are written in favor of corporations, despite the much-repeated nonsense
about the terrible toll of frivolous lawsuits. The national political duopoly,
the two political parties, is organized and run much as a pair of hamburger or
soft-drink multi-corporations, with a million unfair rules and regulations
buried away in every state protecting their privileges. In the economic sphere,
the same phenomenon is called �barriers to entry,� whose existence in many
forms is why you see only two or three companies dominate the aisles of every
grocery and drug store in the country. Seats and votes in the Senate -- the
most powerful and least democratic part of the elected national government --
are largely bought and paid for through an elaborate web of lobbies and special
Senator Edwards� own wealth, which permits him the
indulgence of 400 dollar haircuts at frequent intervals, was achieved by a
vigorous career of making secret settlements with corporations. You might call
it a lot of hollering about battling the devil while keeping your eyes riveted
on the take from the collection plate, a wealth-building strategy perfected by
the likes of Jerry Falwell. Expect only more of the same from this disingenuous
man should he win, but thankfully it does appear we are to be spared regular
Sunday morning preach-ups from Washington on the subject of the blessed spirit
of America versus the evil corporations.
By the way, how do you spend 400 dollars on a haircut? Likely
the price includes regular dye-job touch-ups and nose-hair trims? Perhaps
blackhead removal and a shoe shine? Maybe, when you know all the stuff
included, his haircuts aren�t so extravagant and only seem as though they were
done by the chief hair-dresser from the Court of Louis XVI, one Monsieur
Leonard who created those dazzling bouffants decorated with cages full of birds
and jewels and powder.
No candidate can deliver great change to America, and if one
were even to behave in office as though he or she could do that, one strongly
suspects that he or she would meet the fate of the Kennedy brothers in fairly
Mitt Romney, with wads of money spilling from his pockets,
apparently thought he could follow George Bush�s strategy from 2000: just spend
enough money, smile a lot, and don�t say anything of consequence, and you�ll
win. But America has finally tired of Bush (America has a rather long learning
curve, perhaps excused by its grotesque size), and besides, Romney has a cool,
severe face instead of a smiling half-wit one. He just looks like a guy that
would hire illegal immigrants to do his gardening work despite his being a
wealthy man, something it turns out he in fact did.
Romney is burdened also with his past life as a missionary
for a weird cult called Mormonism, which only in recent years has emphasized a
Christian identity rather than one associated with its odd founder who
supposedly dug up a set of gold plates engraved with the Book of Mormon in his
back yard (Gee, I wonder how they got there?).
At first, Romney thought he saw an opportunity to reprise
John Kennedy�s class act concerning questions about his religion in 1960. But
Kennedy was an earthy Catholic, and many recognized religion would not get in
the way of the job. That is hardly the same thing as having served as a
missionary and resembling a deacon. And Kennedy was eloquent while Romney
resembles the kind of salesman you wish would go away and let you shop in
peace. Besides, Bush�s lumpishness has exhausted the patience of many by
pushing religion into everything, even the brochures handed out at the Grand
Imagine an American president going to an important
international meeting, thumping his big Bible, declaring it to be the certain
Word of God, and challenging the other world leaders to confess that truth?
This is exactly what Mike Huckabee did at an Iowa Republican debate. Does
anyone not obsessed with electric organs and choir robes think this is an
appropriate posture for the leader of the world�s most important country? Does
being a Baptist preacher contribute to statesmanship? Voters needn�t be
concerned over Huckabee�s readiness to play Caesar because his kind of Baptist
is always ready for some killing, the wrathful God of the Old Testament having
played a prominent role in his Sunday School experience, ready, as Mark Twain
wrote in Letters From the Earth, to slay even the women for the sin of
peeing against the temple wall even though they are not capable of the act.
Huckabee does share one advantage with Obama, and that is
his quality of freshness. This cannot be underestimated in view of the
desperation of a people to put George Bush and his pug-uglies into the oblivion
of forgetfulness. Huckabee may be slightly demented -- witness his recent
argument about evolution and kangaroos -- but he does have a boyish, fresh
quality. He doesn�t look or speak anything like Giuliani or Thompson or the
other grotesque political goblins haunting the campaign.
would be the most entertaining outcome were the final candidates to be Obama
and Huckabee. That match would provide a modern version of the Scopes Monkey
Trial of 1925, with Obama as the voice of reason and good sense and Huckabee as
the emotional and articulate defender of nonsense. The outcome in America would
be anybody�s guess.