Humility Tuesday • 5 February 2008

The blog has been redesigned but several readers are lobbying for the installation of a widget before Alex brings the new template into being. The widget will set a quota for posts about popular culture and politics, and limit the amount of ineffable nonsense that makes it into these pages.

No widget! Don't do it!  Here, I'll go all-out. A whole post of my opinions about electoral politics. The most distracting kind of politics! And yet for my jadedness, I have suffered this week a little transformation. 

John McCain, old guy, what am I going to do with you? Who would have guessed that you would finally bring it together? Your relative good intentions belie a frightening level of social and fiscal conservatism bound together in a consistency that's even more potent than stupidity. And I'm concerned: if tomorrow ends with a McCain/Clinton matchup, we are in for a traumatic race around all the wrong differences, with all the meaningful differences off the table.

I used to be a political scientist. I joined the discipline with a BA in philosophy and journalism, and no idea the anti-intellectualism, rah-rah nationalism, and paradigm-bound incuriosity I was in for. Six months with the reductionists and it took a spring break in the Grand Canyon, hiking out through the sheer suffocating cliffs of the inner gorge, to make me realize my situation. I had to leave. Went home, rapped on the door of the Soc dep’t, and gave them my reasons. They were only too happy to take a disciplinary refugee. But that year in political science gave me as much respect for the accuracy of statistical models (which I learned to do well) as disdain for their truth claims. GET THIS: for about 80 years of elections and arguably right into the present, the outcome of a presidential contest can be predicted on just three variables: change in real disposable income, whether a candidate is an incumbent, and whether the country is at war.

Hokum? As if people still vote their pocketbooks. And is there even an understanding that the country is at war? What does incumbency even mean when the same two families have had someone on the ballot every election in my voting lifetime?

But still the models tell me something, and it’s more than the stupid heads on the tv. This is why the last two Bush wins didn’t take me by surprise. The reason I'll watch the RDI sink quarter by quarter and see it as socially beneficial process. But still… especially considering the fiscal fear that's building, the spectre of McCain is haunting me enough to change my vote to someone who can overwhelm him.

I’ve been for Hillary all the way through this thing. The argument was (caveat lector): to those in search of an “inspiring” candidate they "can believe in": stop identifying with the country. Heal thyself, nationalist: be citizen of the world! Stop deceiving yourself that America is a nice country. Let's make it a nice country (w.r.t., especially: trade [my obsession], welfare, war, prisons, education, environmental cooperation) before we think we deserve a nice face for it. No top-down national makeover. Hillary is not a nice person, which is why she works on an symbolic level. Way more importantly, she’s got infrastructure. All that matters in government is organizational resources and bureaucratic know-how. This is power. Hillary is ready to rush the power structure because she’s been writing the plays for a decade. She’s the only one I trust to go back and UN-DO as much of the last eight years of policy as possible. She’s the only one whose ego is invested in that. We can talk about “moving forward” after we do some serious policy repair, chez Hillary. "Moving forward" is naive and amnesiac when there's so much horror on the books, waiting to crust over into "the way things are done."

But no matter. She cannot beat McCain in this environment, I think; at least not without insane blood.

I’ve done my best holding out any emotional involvement in the symbolic nonsense. The Obama show with his fake MLK cadences and his plaintive open brow and cute ears and that anything-but-macho way he dips his head and touches a shoulder. Because I wanted a policy juggernaut, not a symbol to help me lie to myself about the deeper nature of the beast.

But this is why the cute man can do it: he can mobilize so many who want to believe in the show. And who are not your father's oldsmobile pocketbook voters (those anti-idealists). The show is a shallow construction, but even constructions made out of the fleeting miasma of culture can have consequences that are real. Enough people believe in the symbol now that it will be real. Who am I to look askance?

Of course he is sweet. Of course there’s a little bit of feedback from the ideas he creates of ourselves into the polity we are to become. Of course the symbolic shit and the culture it creates can be beautiful. Of course I can love this man and the new ideology we're giving him (though please don't ask me to sniffle at these bad Scarlett Johanssen videos–I don't have disposable emotion for electoral politics). I hope Obama appreciates all this psychic and emotional labor people are doing for him: charisma is in the eyes of the crowd and it is us creating the Obama tide.

I voted absentee two weeks ago, before the change. So this is my way of changing that vote. By proxy. One owl for Obama, this time around.