The New Cynicism
by Sean Murphy
August 17, 2008
Friends, Democrats, Republicans, lend me your minds; I come to pillory John Edwards, not to praise him.
Okay: he proved himself susceptible to the same ego-driven misdeeds any run-of-the-mill narcissists (also known as politicians) shrug off as inevitable, even obligatory on-the-job training. While it is almost refreshing to see a political sex scandal not involving a "family-focused" Republican caught soliciting gay love in chat rooms or airport stalls, this more mundane sort of adultery seems somewhat old-fashioned.
That Edwards has indelibly damaged his personal relations and, likely, his political career is both his own doing and his own problem. That his idiocy may harm his party is unfortunate, if inevitable. What his indiscretion does not do, however, is contradict, or diminish his platform. The things he has articulated and championed (his depiction of the "two Americas" from 2004 seems as prescient now as Gore's widely lampooned concerns about the environment from 2000) are still valid, and very real. And herein lies the rub: even if his hypocrisy did run counter to his stump speech, the ideas being espoused always were—and remain—much more important than the person promoting them.
As it happens, Edwards' exposure provides an ideal and overdue opportunity to acknowledge something Democrats have been unable, or unwilling to articulate. Something that goes a long way toward explaining our past candidates, as well as the unprecedented enthusiasm that greeted Obama this year, much to Hillary Clinton's consternation: in the past it did not, ultimately, matter so much how convivial, dynamic or charismatic a particular candidate was, his job was to advance the Democratic platform, period. Or, certainly since the Reagan/Bush years (the mendacity of which seem almost quaint now, which only goes to show how historically, unimaginably incompetent our current administration has been), the overarching idea was to prevent further destruction to the increasingly imbalanced status quo.
Yes, but isn't the conservative candidate's job to advance the Republican platform? Well, it definitely is, once elected. Of course, since there is approximately zero percent chance these drugstore patriots get elected by talking about the things they actually intend to do—to, and at the expense of, the voters—once in office, they shuck and jive, using their predictably simplistic playbook. That is why God, guns and gays have comprised the basic boilerplate of virtually every campaign since Nixon's insidious (but effective) Southern strategy forty years ago. This is also why it's crucial for them to get a face to sell—and spin—this horseshit, which explains how we got a washed-up actor and, more incredibly, a former president's semi-retarded son, as spokesmen for the brand.
Hopefully, no one will strain themselves trying to rationalize Edwards' error, because whether or not the man is much weaker than many people thought, his message is strong as ever, and it is, for the most part, a message Obama is also advocating. The Republican message is so frivolous (in sum, no one cares about your personal relationship with God, no one wants to take your guns away, and no gay people hope to be alone in your company), or so offensive (please excuse our appropriation of your culture and creed so that we can enlist your vote for a party that will actively make your lives more miserable, by any measurable criteria!) that they have to construct a paint-by-numbers plan that delivers a readymade mythology (e.g., the "CEO president")—one the supposedly liberal mainstream media never exposes and scarcely scrutinizes—to quarterback the country.
This is America, the game is rigged, and everyone who can read is aware of it. For this very reason, there is no acceptable excuse to sit '08 out or stand idly by while the wolves in the barn eat and plunder with impunity (got that Hillary fans? Remember that Nader fans). Despite the Messianic fervor his born-again constituency brought to the carving table, there was never anything close to a mandate. No chance Bush would have been nearly so successful at ruining everything he touched without 9/11: that tragedy, and the ways it was manipulated, provided the blank checkbook he was provided. Only fairly recently, it must be noted, have those checks begun bouncing; Bush was, after all, playing with (White) house money.
Ultimately, as we observed in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and eventually, inevitably in the current state of affairs, only once it starts to affect everyone do the tardy bells of accountability begin to toll. It's never enough to simply witness the cavalcade of cons and clusterfucks, (e.g., disappearing health insurance, rising unemployment, Katrina, Iraq, zealous deregulation and careless devastation of the environment—remember all the people who gleefully ridiculed Gore's green initiatives? Thanks folks!) it's only—as always—once the shit begins to stack up on the aloof American's doorstep and he walks out one morning and steps squarely in it with both feet that it finally sinks in: Hey! What the hell is going on here?
How does this happen? Don't ask, it's happening again right now. You can explain it as eloquently, or plainly as possible, you can utilize PowerPoint slides or put it in a children's book, but these folks (and each of us knows some of these people) claim that they vote for the person, not the party (yet managed to pull the lever for Bush not only in 2000, but in 2004) are actually as bad as Republicans. This is the latest breed, these nattering nabobs of know-nothiningism, the Libertarians who are clever enough to manage their financial portfolios but not quite equipped to see through a Swiftboat campaign that lampoons, in John Kerry, the type of war veteran who usually gives conservative males better erections than Viagra.
And so, to a certain extent it's the mundane matters such as, to list a few, not making a mockery of the Constitution, not starting wars (or, not get into them by utilizing the exact type of propaganda employed by the same tyrannies we've traditionally fought against), not aggressively—and blatantly—providing repeated (permanent?!) tax cuts for the wealthiest percentile of citizens, especially the corporations that practically trumpet their intent to further enrich themselves, literally at the expense of American workers (Hello Enron! Thanks again, Exxon!).
In other words, understanding that social Darwinism is invariably espoused most passionately by those fortunate enough to be born several steps ahead of the starting block, and that the filthiest rich wouldn't piss on the impoverished if they were on fire, it is not good enough to lament how nothing ever seems to change. Only very recently has there been any sort of pushback that points out how this faith-based (and faithfully enabled) balderdash flies directly in the face of the same New Testament these culture warriors have so eagerly appropriated for their most insidious of agendas. A blonde, muscle-bound Jesus, who hates fags, loves guns and endorses unfettered capitalism…really? Even Orwell could never have conceived cynicism this despicable, or people this willfully ignorant.
Once again, Democratic policies effectively do little more than police the powerful; only the most obdurate idealists actually believe that progressive politics are possible. Not when people who endeavor to increase the minimum wage are (successfully, consistently) caricaturized as being out-of-touch elitists. This is why Bill Clinton, in some folks' eyes, did the most he could with what he had (having had to fight hammer and tong with the repugnant Newt Gingrich and his merry band of nitwits) while for others he never ceased to disappoint from the second he triangulated his way into the oral office. (Incidentally, while Clinton managed to survive the transparently prurient and partisan obsession to nail him on something, anything, Slick Willy is now soul mates with Edwards in that he was, in the end, congenitally incapable of keeping his head out of the lion's mouth—for lack of a more appropriate, and graphic metaphor.)
All of this being said, I suspect that Obama represents the first politician in ages (possibly combining the better aspects of Clinton, Carter and J.F.K. without, Democrats pray, any—or too many—of their weaknesses) who can not only attain the requisite objectives, but perhaps go several steps beyond them. This, of course, is especially crucial in a post 9/11 world, but it's also imperative after the post-Katrina epiphany that illustrated, once and for all, the GOP's entire point is to prove, preferably through example, that government is incapable of taking care of people. Remember, Reagan's most famous talking point was the intelligence-insulting proposition that government itself was the problem. One wonders, in the wake of our subprime mortgage shit storm, and seeing how quickly the wizards of Wall Street worked their snouts around Big Government's tit, how many folks are eager to invoke the Ill Communicator these days?
We can certainly count on less than a little from our mostly timid media, and watch, slack-jawed as Fox News provides cover for these post-Goebbelsian architects of the apocalypse. It is beyond pointing out the obvious, or griping about it, because more than the moral disintegration and metastasizing national debt, the Bush years have come close to perfecting a complete degeneration of American political discourse. Tapping into a collective tendency to disdain critical thought, the actual process of advancing debate based on established facts is successfully (remarkably) dismissed as intellectualism. And everyone knows that is elitist. What else could compel an individual (or heaven forbid, a reporter) to follow the blood and whispers from the pocketbooks of the shrinking middle class up the daisy chain to CEOs accepting billion dollar buy-outs after systematically crashing a company—all in the calculated design of driving up its stock price for the shareholders? This is simply good business and, after all, the free market will sort it out. Eventually, something approximating a day of reckoning arrives (look around, it's sort of happening right now), and the same folks who are down with drowning the government in a bathtub are compelled to take Grover Norquist's cock out of their mouths long enough to cry out for a taxpayer financed bail-out. All in the very American attempt to keep the capitalist crazy train from crashing into their McMansions.
And yet, here we are: McCain who—no matter how desperately, and cravenly he tries to crabwalk away from the rotting corpse of Bush/Cheney—has a platform promising (indeed guaranteeing) at least four more years of leadership that yields similar setbacks. One reason Obama is so electrifying is because, if we were to run with yet another perfectly competent, respectable nominee, it may well play into the pattern we've seen emerge since Carter's term: the Democrats dedicate most of their time in office tidying up the disasters they inherited, getting things back on track so that, once a new Manichean Candidate emerges from the tar pit, the country can hand the keys back to a corporation-loving, government-hating simpleton who keeps the rave going until eventually, inevitably, the ecstasy wears off and everyone awakens, again, wondering how we all got into this ditch. Perhaps Obama, who has galvanized some of the demographics that have not voted in any significant numbers in the past—and whose indifference the GOP depends upon—will take it a step further and, with their help, create a more enduring legacy. The type of landscape where it is less likely, four or eight years on, that Americans will reflexively begin to reminisce about the bad old days. At the very least, a Democrat victory will signal change for the simple reason that the incalculable destruction inflicted so far this century will cease.
Could it happen? I admit, I am no longer quite as optimistic as I once was. But I'm not cynical, I'm sentient.
Posted: September 1, 2008