Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire and all that

As I write, CNN has the porous Larry King interviewing that quacking fool Laura Schlessinger ... I flip to it for a second and catch her saying "... and drugs and drinking and sex ..." I flipped the channel real quick. I enjoy those little vignettes you can get from channel surfing, and that line is just about all you ever hear from the Schlessingers of the world. Meanwhile, the faux-stentorian Dan Abrams is interviewing some crime expert about some poor pregnant Marine who has gone missing.

How soon they forget. Is the news world so totally bereft of originality that all this is all it can gather together in the middle of the most exciting presidential race since 1992? Last night, the talking fools ... they call it punditry, but they give pundits a bad name every time they open their gasholes ... looked peacock proud as they ate a whole bunch of crow. Turns out everything they said about Iowa was, in a phrase, a crock. Never mind ... insta-invent another zero-sum analysis. Who cares ... they never get anything right anyway.

I think that the present race for president, at this frozen juncture between primaries in minor states, illustrates with singular clarity the three rules that head up this blog. Let's see:

No such thing as a zero sum game: Anyone who wasted a single neuron on the pontifictions of the pundits after Iowa knew that the election in November was bound to be Huckabee against Obama. Five days later, who the hell is Huckabee? (Except for Ralph Reed whom Anderson Cooper has chosen to resurrect from the sepluchre of his corruption, nobody seems to know anything about this Huckabee guy today.) It turns out that things are much more complex, and that a single event or a single factor does not suffice to explain. So for the Democrats, the pundits think that this is hope versus experience ... only that experience is hoary and hope is chill. But in reality, it is about neither. I think that Democratic voters are thinking about two things: who can win and who can govern. When McCain won Iowa ... I know Huckabee won it, but everyone knows that McCain was the real winner ... I figure it made a lot Democrats think that Obama might be more likely to beat him than Hillary. But that did not translate into Obama winning in New Hampshire not because Clinton teared up but because the race is not settled, there are more issues than one (whichever single issue the pundit is mindlessly repeating), and sometimes winning gains an advantage for the loser.

Nothing in this race has yet convinced me that Obama would be a better president than Clinton, and I find his denatured "hope" cloying and evasive. He is certainly the better orator, and that counts for me. And if Clinton loses this campaign, then Obama is our guy. But that does not mean that this is a zero sum game. The experience of a genuine contest at least about style and approach is changing the party and the nation, and it will change the presidency if only we can grab it away from those monstrous 'publicans who only know how to push on a rope.

You can't push on a rope: Ever walk a dog on a leash? He's in front of you but you want him to move to the right. You do a little jerk to let him know where to go. If you and your dog are cocok (an Indonesian word meaning kopasetik, and I use the word because like all Indonesianists, I find myself thinking about the dying Suharto ... more on that anon), the dog groks your drift and moves to the right. If not, you just can't make him go by pushing on the rope.

American punditry has played dog to the 'publicans, panting and grinning as they eagerly grok the little leash jerks, and moving to where they have been instructed. But the public is beginning to understand in its majority that we are being leash-led down the garden path to perdition. So the 'publicans, going to where they figure they have been succeeding, keep trying to push on a rope, mouthing the contradictory platitudes of the three antagonistic wings of their temporary and corrupt coalition. Think of it this way ... do you believe that Dick Cheney gives a rat's patootie about rounding up homos and confining us to camps? Or, do you really believe that anybody who actually read and thought about the gospels feels that the most compelling issue of the day is to live the rich more tax breaks or to kill Social Security so granny can live out her life under a bridge?

But droning on with these incompatible slogans worked for them, so now they know no better. The grokking ... that is the putative dog listening and obeying ... has gone, but the leash remains, strangely with less and less effect.

I think that the Democrats for a long time tried to push on a rope ... mouthing the certitudes derived from nodding at each other in closed rooms. That's a large part of my problem with Obama ... I think he is speaking loud and sonorously, but the message is all form designed to satisfy without quenching, to give you the sugar rush of believing without the protein of proposals. But even so, he is not trying to push Americans to him with some rope of dishonesty like the 'publicans ... he is trying to entice them to his side with a proverbial cookie. Here, Fido, come and get your cookie.

Any force given long enough turns into its opposite, or things bite back: There's an easy one here ... the 'publicans are paying for the crimes of what will end up being 8 years of hubris and corruption and self-satisfaction. Well, maybe. Remember, it's not a zero-sum game, so gawd nose what'll actually happen. I don't believe that the 'publicans have turned into their opposite ... they have become more and more of the venality that is their root and branch. I don't believe that the Democrats have turned into their opposite ... they still rely too much on hoping and dissembling rather than thinking and acting. What I think may be happening is that Americans might in some measure turn into their opposites ... that Americans might be on the verge of demanding the enactment of their majority belief that climate change is real, that people should control their own bodies, that government has a duty to lead, that we are the stewards of the planet we live on, that basic decency requires that the privileged help the downtrodden. It is hard to imagine this nation giving up its hummers and parking lots and Walmart. But in our majority, we know things have to change.

So perhaps only in the sense of the things bite back rule does Obama represent something for me ... the indistinctness of the content of his message might allow that it be filled by spontaneous movements for environment and generosity. Perhaps the next generation, voting now in larger numbers so far than expected, might inflate the balloon of an Obama presidency.

Maybe. Still, Clinton seems the surer bet. As long as she can beat that old fart McCain.

Postscript: Nice piece on political rhetoric and the current campaign here by Peter Applebome.

The careful reader will note that I wrote this post over two days ... caught ... I am actually posting this on Friday night, 48 hours after the date stamp. Honesty, and a dollop of obsessive-compulsiveness, demands that I note this.

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