Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Holding Out For A Hero To Emerge
I got a lot of mail this morning from people criticizing my alleged fickelness for writing positive posts about Clark, Dean and Edwards.
Just so you know, I may very likely write positive articles about every other candidate, as well. In this election I'm not going to bash any Democrats (unless they do something really egregious.) I'm not interested, at this point, in any more hand-wringing about the Party and I don't feel like indulging in self-flaggelation. Winners aren't self-loathing.
We Democrats don't annoint our candidates in the smoke filled boardroom of the Carlyle Group the way the Republicans do. Our primaries are real. They are an open field for every candidate to make his or her case. It's rough and tumble and often self-defeating, but at least it's democratic. Normally, I'm up for the fight, but this time I'm looking at it differently.
I have, in years gone by, worked for candidates in the primaries. I was a big supporter of Hart in both 84 and 88. And, I liked Clinton early, too. I was never entirely focused on the general election in those cases. Instead I was focused on the candidate himself, the direction of the party, laying the groundwork for the future and developing an overall political strategy. In other words, I was being a good citizen, involved in civic affairs and voting my conscience. I cared about winning, but I never saw politics in solely those terms. I was in it for the long haul.
But, that was then and this is now.
We are in the midst of a radical experiment in both domestic and foreign policy -- all of the institutional safeguards are dysfunctional and the people are overwhelmed with an unprecedented barrage of soothing images, cognitive dissonance and white noise. The power to conduct this radical experiment was attained by undemocratic means and is being consolidated with the same underhanded processes. The potential ramifications of this political revolution are as serious as anything we've experienced in the history of this country. This is no drill. They will continue to push the edge of the envelope until they are stopped. They have no self-governance.
So, I don't care about anything this time but winning the presidential election. The Republican Party has demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to hold this much power and the presidency is the quickest, most efficient way for us to check it. I will vote for any breathing Democrat (and maybe even one who's not) running against Bush.
But, I can't tell the future and neither can anyone else. Because my calculation is based solely upon who can beat Bush, I can't choose a candidate based on a combination of where I would like to see the country go and the practical notion of electability, as it should be, but rather solely on who can win in the political environment of the fall of 2004. (It's cynical, I know, but I don't feel very idealistic. It's a war of survival at this point.) It's simply too early to tell
So, for now, I will continue to highlight the strengths of each candidate and try to analyze what all of them bring to the party that could be useful in defeating Bush. And, I refuse to give the Wurlitzer any extra notes to play. They - and the servile jades of the press - used Bradley to beat Gore over the head mercilessly and in a close election (which this is likely to be) these things count.
I've concluded, with great distress, that this media age has had the effect of trivializing politics and blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality to such an extent that, in this instance anyway, we must capitulate to that and learn to exploit it. So, considering how high the stakes are, my prime interest in a Democratic candidate is in how he can be marketed rather than whether his ideas are the right ones. Sadly, I don't think ideas in and of themselves are particularly relevant at the moment --- it's what they symbolize, how they affect the competition's game plan and how well they are framed in the mind of the public. The single most important thing has nothing to do with policy or philosophy. It is the likeability of the man himself, what heroic "type" he represents, and the "feeling" he engenders in the public.
However, we must also take into account the fact that the electorate is closely divided and turn-out is going to be essential. This requires that candidates also inspire our ideological base in an environment where many are paralysed and hopeless at the sight of a Republican onslaught so shockingly aggressive that it seems that the entire nation is dealing with it by putting its fingers in its ears and singing "lalalalalalalal." The candidate has to make Democrats believe that he has the balls to take the punches and come up fighting. Otherwise, it's very tempting to make the choice to see this whole thing as a reality game show that you can tune out until next week when you like the story line better. (That's one of the effects of the non-stop shoutfests. Their omnipresence and constantly high decible level, no matter whether it's Laci, Clinton's cock or nuclear war, has created the impression that it's all posturing. This makes it easy for people to simply switch the channel and pretend that Bush is no worse than anybody else.)
It would be pretty to think that the Green delusion is true --- that there exists a great untapped liberal constituency in the non-voting public, but there is little evidence to suggest that's true. So, in addition to rousing the grassroots (which I believe is best done through rhetoric, not emphasis on policy) the candidate will also have to be prepared to reach out to the swing voters who are too dumb to see that the difference between the two parties in this era is so great that if you don't know which you are then you shouldn't vote. (While I generally consider the political press to be part of the hostile beltway establishment, I think they are really just stupid swing voters. They'll go with the sexy candidate -- or at least allow themselves to be sufficiently seduced by him to neutralize their establishment bias.)
So, basically we are on two tracks. One is to inspire the base and fight back. And, the other is to field a candidate who knows how to swim in the post modernist media muck and who can be explained to a confused and disengaged electorate in symbolic heroic terms. The person who will win must do both. That's who I'm looking for and only through the trial by fire of a real campaign can this man emerge.
None of this is to say that Democrats shouldn't pick a candidate early and work in the primaries for them. Indeed, it is a necessity if we hope to get the best person nominated. But, it's not going to be me. I just can't see this election in those terms and I wouldn't be a very good partisan for any particular candidate at this point.
Right now, I'm a supporter of all and a denigrator of none. Perhaps in 6 months time, it will have all become clear. If the race remains close then and I think I've found the guy, then I'll probably write about why I think that's the case.
Until then, godspeed all you Dean, Kerry, Edwards etc supporters. I love 'em all. And whoever wins, I'm behind him 100% percent.
digby 6/24/2003 03:19:00 PM