A good friend recently emailed me and asked when my next installment would be posted in light of the intensity of the November election that is racing towards us. My confession is that I don’t know who is really reading these posts. I thrive off of interaction—even responses that are contrary or challenging. I love dialogue. I love the classroom. So, thanks to Josh Bottomly’s encouragemnt, here are some more thoughts/concerns about the presidential race.
I’m scared. I’m scared not just about this present race, but I’m finding myself feeling light headed and nauseous about our election process as a whole. Our democracy is being sullied and is degenerating into 15-second video/sound bytes. We are not a thinking people. We are a grossly consumerist society that doesn’t know how to think or talk about what is good for us and so we buy into whatever is most artfully handed to us.
Let’s stop and think about this. Some court cases can last years with the work of many crackpot, expert attorneys and investigators building a case on either side of an issue. We presume that there is thorough inquiry and research and the selection of an unbiased jury—all those things that we call “due process.” It is a less than perfect system of justice, but it is nevertheless intense and its aim is at being thorough and impartial. All of this judicial work is poured into one single court case.
In contrast, with the presidential election we, as a country, are working toward a decision that affects literally the whole of the world and the courtroom is infinitely bigger. The courtroom in this situation here decides the highest-ranking public official in our country and the most powerful political leader in the world—and this decision teeters back and forth on the edge of a knife held in balance by the whims of popular opinion. And what is most frightening is that our public opinion is informed by the media. Who is more powerful today than the president of the United States? Fox News, CNN, MSNNBC, the Washington Post, New York Times, Politico.com and Huffingtonpost.com et al.
What causes the stock market to rise and fall? Speculation. Public opinion. Gut feelings about the hopefulness of a commodity. What causes a presidential candidate to rise or fall in the polls? Speculation. Public opinion. Gut feelings based on the amount of positive press, the good face time a candidate has on internet blogs and the Associated Press.
I had been formerly optimistic that Obama’s sexiness would get him elected. Put him up on the screen next to McCain. It is like putting Roger Federer up next to John McEnroe or Kobe Bryant next to Larry Bird (wow, I just used a sports analogy…the earth must’ve sifted on its axis). I’ve been optimistic because sex sells and for once in my life I was glad that our consumer addiction to newer, faster, sleeker, and sexier might lead us into a new kind of presidential leadership that could be a watershed for White House administrations for years to come. It is not so much that I have high hopes that Obama is going to radically change America and fix all our problems. It is that he will introduce America and it’s representatives to a much more sophisticated and elegant kind of public discourse, one that is able to govern in light of the complexities of our present day and age. His sex appeal is more than his visual image. It is his poise, his eloquence, his tact. Perhaps this is what his opponents misread as “uppity”? Well if a sophisticated use of language, a generous deference to the complexities of any single issue, and a calm and collected posture define “uppity,” then I want to be uppity too.
As Obama has said, we are functioning in a 21st century with a 20th century bureaucracy. What even more fundamentally is Obama’s sexy appeal? It is that he represents a new generation. In my mind and heart it is time for the baby boomers to move on. Health care, social security, their obsession with militarization, the failings of our educational system, the abuse of the environment…all these things are not going to be restructured and renovated by our parents. They don’t have enough time left. These issues are the younger generation’s unfortunate inheritance and we’ve got some work to do. And I want Obama, not to solve everything, but to set the younger generation on a course pointed in a good direction. In this situation it is not a matter so much that newer and sleeker is necessarily always better. I was never a fan of new Coke and I’m just happy in worn jeans and an older hand me down car from my dad to drive to work. I’m a fan of tradition. I am not interested in defying the boomer generation just for the sake of defiance. In fact it is Obama who seems to be aligning himself with the democratic tradition that made America great and the neo-conservativism that got us into this tangle in Iraq that is the aberration Historians for years to come and will see George Bush Jr. as the rogue fanatic, but alas that is a huge topic that would take many more blogs to explore. I’d only like to point you to my favorite essay by T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Here Eliot so keenly says, “to conform merely is to not conform at all.” The best way to work within the tradition of American democracy is to test it, push and pull on it and to interpret it to our present circumstances. Obama is just the right kind of leader who can help us apply our treasured constitutional democracy to the 21st century.
If I haven’t lost the very readers I’m trying to persuade, let me continue back on track here.
So it was with great shock that a dear friend of mine, someone from the boomer generation (who will remain nameless), announced that he was impressed with McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin. How has McCain been represented by the media prior to the Palin pick? He was seen as a cranky, ill tempered, often spacey, gaffe-prone, clone of George Bush. Now that he’s got Sarah Palin he comes across like a sweet, generous grandpa who is asking his younger daughter to help him run the company.
Sex sells almost everything, but I’m scared because when push comes to shove for this next election—when the next president is what we are buying—voters are quicker to run back home to the comfort of mom and dad and grandma and grandpa to take care of us. Sarah Palin doesn’t appeal to voters primarily as a maverick “barracuda” who is out to attack Obama. She appeals as the cool mom who lives in the house down the street. Mom with chutzpa, with attitude. Hillary in contrast is that crazy aunt who might be really smart but is never taken very seriously when she rants at the dinner table on Thanksgiving.
When Americans want to look good on Friday night and when they want to impress out on the street, they get flashy clothes, buy fancy cell phones and drive nice cars. When they want someone to balance their budgets, do the laundry, work on the plumbing and watch the kids, they call mom and dad.
Obama, the smart, good looking, eloquent, straight talking neighbor? Or McCain, the persnickety, gruff, confused, but loveable grandpa? This race has always been a generational divide. McCain picked Sarah Palin, not because of her experience but because she helps him tell American voters the story he wants to tell, the one where he plays the character of that quirky grandfather that you love to love. Conservatives want to believe this story in all its wholesomeness. In this story (with the help of the religious right) its the democrats who are the bully bad guys, the secularists, intellectuals, bleeding hearts, who are shifty and not to be trusted. Each of us come to our decisions with our whole beings engaged in the process. We decide not just with our minds but with our past, our past formation, training, education, and upbringing. This creates in us a bias for better or worse. My fear is that the predominant bias of the voting population makes voters into suckers for so called stability, security, and reliability that McCain wants to sell.
Discerning minds will see right through McCain’s VP choice as an example of McCain’s unreliability instead. The big card that McCain supporters continue to play in defending the Palin choice is the notion that she has more “executive” experience than Obama. It is insane to try to compare eight years of executive leadership of a town of 9,000 to Obama’s years of teaching law, his work in Chicago and time in the Senate. Yes, he is younger and has no “executive” experience, but he has been studying Washington and international politics and has been engaged with it in a very informed way that allows him to be a fresh force of change in Washington. Just a few days ago Sarah Palin made her first gaffe by confusing the role of Fannie Mae as a government agency. What in the world? Is this woman ready to oversee our economy?
Palin has come from nowhere (almost literally). We know nothing about her. She was picked by McCain not because she would be an effective leader but because she makes his ticket (himself) look good. She helps him tell that nice warm, fuzzy grandpa story. If McCain were a reliable candidate, he would not pick a running mate solely based upon that person’s political appeal; he would make a decision that is equally important for the good of the country. McCain, the oldest presidential nominee in the history of presidential elections, should first and foremost assure his supporters that his second in command is thoroughly capable of running our country. How is it that in a society glutted on failsafe insurance policies that we would consider trusting our back up leadership, the one who leads our military, legistlature, economy, and public services to a no name woman? There isn't one insurance company that would underwrite such a plan for a 72 year old president. Yes, there is politicking to be done on the road to the White House. Yes, these candidates have to maneuver and stretch themselves into different arenas of discussion, different nuances to their positions and rhetoric all for the sake of getting elected. But stretching himself to Sarah Palin for the sake of winning an election is going too far.
For those who are defending Sarah Palin with the reasoning that she has more executive experience than Obama: basically you are saying that you would choose Palin to run the country over Obama. Is she is really better qualified? Of course, this is a presidential race between Obama and McCain, but with McCain at such an older age, Palin needs to be a more thoroughly proven leader. McCain has made a high stakes gamble by picking Palin. He has pushed his chips in all or nothing. The stability of our administration isn’t something we can afford to gamble with and this demonstrates not McCain’s brilliance as a politician. It demonstrates recklessness.