these times • 6 September 2008

Dahlia Lithwick: “There is a way in which she's cashing in on the ability of very, very, very pretty women to say very, very vicious things with a great big smile.” (Day to Day)

Gail Collins: “[Her] speech totally swallowed up all the attention in St. Paul, leaving nothing whatsoever for speakers like Mitt Romney… announcing: ‘We need change all right! Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.’ Tragically, nobody seemed interested enough to point out that this made no sense.” (NYT)

wozu: “since Plato, animals have played a vital role in political rhetoric.  That the barracuda, a fish universally regarded as vile, predatory, mercenary — a shark lacking even the nobility and solitude of sharks, a shark that also scavenges — has been elevated into the panzoon of respectable animals tells us a great deal about the state of American politics.”

Tom Friedman: “There is no bigger issue on campuses these days than environment/energy. Going into this election, I thought that — for the first time — we would have a choice between two “green” candidates. That view is no longer operative — and college students (and everyone else) need to understand that.” (NYT)

(0v0): Uncorked a cheap cabernet last night and caught up on Jon Stewart. It's all political theatre at this point, all of it, so of course the campaigns are going to be exercizes in overstatement all the way through. Statements made for effect. The bad cab shined up my sense of the absurd last night and here I am thick-skulled in the morning. I feel like archiving some thoughts here.

For months I’ve had a difficulty relating to people in my generation who would even consider voting against Obama. Or to be more accurate, the idea of voting against him makes me sick to my stomach. Facebook is a more private community than this one, but the (0v0) network—at least those of who talk to me—is much closer to me ideologically than the immediate friends in my Facebook. They are close to me in life, but far in feeling; and you are the inverse.

I have zero surprise that my family and everyone I know back home would vote against Obama—they have ways of seeing and hearing that pre-determine the message they’ll receive from him as Clintonesque and coat any line from the GOP in a sheath of pearl before they swallow it. Also, most of them are unconsciously racist in small ways, despite the best intentions of their hearts. Social conservatism is its own world of perception. But those from my generation—even the trust fund kids and the high-earners who I know have at times voted GOP even though it’s not hip—who are capable of even wondering how to vote… that’s just disturbing. Particularly those who do it for fiscal reasons, because fiscal conservatism is atomistic, whereas social conservatism goes much deeper inside. Yet conservatives of both kinds are fairly nestled into my life, and I don’t want it different. It is mind-blowing to read down a list of facebook updates with such a rage-range.

The theatre is out of control, but I really do have to engage this process sincerely. Both political science to my right and New Age Yoga to my left would say disengage and don’t identify with this, either because engaging is irrational or because it’s "bad energy." And then there's a certain hipster disconnectedness. To that, fuck irony. Irony is the near enemy of historical perspective. To all of it, we don’t get to sit this out. Don’t get to pretend that we’re moving to Canada. We’ve benefited from being Americans in every way, and constitute this monster both by our actions and our inactions; and that creates responsibility.

In a way, I wonder if my trust fund and high salaried friends who would think twice about Obama are practicing a form of cynicism. Disengaging from the political level of the question as staying the course as fiscal conservatives. Talk about making it easy on yourself.

Anyway. I wonder if all this will make my case to the academics that rurual America is real. Yes, the GOP is pushing this politics of “outsider” resentment because it’s just what has worked for them for so long—all the way back to Nixon. But also, of course their polls are telling them it resonates. Hello: people in rural areas have a completely different experience of nationhood. This stuff is real; the people who buy the “son of the soil” line are real. It actually is elitist not to know that.

A dear friend who is gay and Mormon—though not allowed, obviously, to go to church—is trying to convince the more politicized of her siblings that gay marriage is not a threat to their privacy. Some of them, meantime, are on the anti-gay activist rosters, and asking my friend not to “take it personally because it’s just about protecting our privacy.” This is the church’s line: if marriage is legalized, then the church’s privacy (their right not to honor the unions) will be threatened. First, pure lies. Second, what a brilliant inversion. It is the vagina police—of which the Mormon Church is an important constituient—that wants to violate privacy. What happens in the culture wars is that the public/private dichotomy gets breached in the wrong way. In a way that kills invidual choice while leaving the conceptual public/private binary intact. The right is so brilliant at self-identifying its own greatest outrage—here, that it is only the right that wants to invade your home life and your sex life—and declaring that this is exactly the sin of the “other side.”

Speaking of sides, these campaigns don’t even know how to talk to each other. They are both running against Bush, and doing so orthogonally to one another. It won’t go on like this—they GOP is trying to force the Dems to argue on their terms, as always—but wouldn’t it be interesting if they just talked past one another all fall? It’s what makes sense, really. The two campaigns are pitched at totally different kinds if mind. Luckily or cursedly, the media will make make them intersect. Must have “two sides” to things in the world of agree/disagree. It would be boring as hell if it weren’t so infernally interesting.