Thursday, April 24, 2008

4/24/08 Politics - Do we want what we think we want?

I try to do my best to follow politics, at least the ones that take place on the macro level. I’ve always read the newspaper, which once seemed like demographic rebellion and now is a point of quixotic pride, as how in the world can they even continue to exist in such a brutally unfair marketplace?

I’m no political junkie; couldn’t tell you what’s going on in local politics, and really only follow down to the level of congressional races when there’s a flashy story or scandal or what have you that gives off enough sparks to draw attention. The presidential race is where the meat of the story is.

And even I can’t follow it too closely because it’s just way too depressing, how bereft of content and ideas the whole thing is. To watch McCain and Clinton scratch and claw for victory is to watch two people set each and every last principle on fire in the name of their ambition. Lurking in the classic Faust narrative is Obama as the prequel; the man who claims the straight and narrow principled lane and seems like the hero of some unwritten F. Scott Fitzgerald tragedy per the famous quote.

All of which led me to wonder the titular question - why do politicians, by all accounts smart, ambitious people for the most part, reduce themselves to unpalatable gruel over the course of the presidential election season? I mean, Hillary's ridiculous assertion that she would "obliterate" Iran if need be? It's impossible to read about a comment like that and not want to throw my hands up in disgust and ignore the whole thing. This is presumably an intelligent woman, right? With a high-powered education and a whole set of beliefs and plans? So why the hell is she diving headfirst into the mud puddle of the lowest common denominator? What idiot actually believes that this thinking woman (no matter your overall opinion of her) would obliterate another country? It just makes her look ridiculous, transparent, like just another saleswoman of snake oil.

And it would be one thing if it were just Clinton, but John McCain WTF? One of the best reads about politics I've ever encountered was David Foster Wallace's essay about following John McCain around, and his impressions of the political world in general and McCain in particular. One of the things that stood out to him, as it has to so many members of the press, is the persona that McCain's still trying to sell- that of the straight-talking man of principle, the Hollywood action hero persona scaled to fit politics. But McCain's been just as ridiculous as Clinton - the man was one of the only Republicans to show half a brain when it came to the idiocy of Bush's tax cuts, and now he wants to make them permanent? I mean, I understand that you've got to appease your core consituency, but does it have to be at the expense of everything you believe?

It would be nice to see a recognizable human run for office, instead of squinting at the ridiculous platitude-constructed human simulations provided by the candidates and trying to divine some kind of personality. And maybe an actual person is too messy of a thing to fit into the news culture of today, when the slightest misstep can be cross-sectioned just so to move the Stratego pieces areound on the board just so. But I think that the short gains that are made on the tactical level are a piece of a greater tragedy, which is the loss of any semblance of the messy nature of actual people from the seekers of presidential office.

But this is not really the candidates' fault, as they just reflect optimal conditions for victory. If juggling cats were a requirement for being president, you could bet Obama's face would be scratched to pieces. So the ridiculous and cynicla exercise of selling out one's principles in the name of state-specific sound bytes must work, on some level, or else it wouldn't be done. I wonder, though, if a candidate would for once take the tactical hit and just say "screw it, this is me", they would get rewarded by an electorate that seems to be more logical and down-to-earth on the whole than the squinting analysts can conceive of it being.

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