Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

In past presidential election years, I’ve always looked forward to the conventions. The Republicans consistently offer constructive aggravation: enough bullshit, self-righteousness, heartlessness, cluelessness and corn to inspire sputtering rage and get my heart racing. Conservatives are my cardio. I’m confident I’ll get my work-out again this year.

The Democrats are a dramatic comedy, it’s always a mixed emotional bag with them. They engage me as I look at the delegates who, despite all their silly campaign “flair,” radiate with a fair amount of intelligence/literacy, a refreshing quantity of diversity, and a few gratifying moments of grace. I’m happy to see the old warriors and the new hopefuls and the treasured icons. I still remember with teary fondness JFK Jr.’s appearance at the 1988 Democratic Convention: John-John, the toddler who saluted his slain father’s coffin, all grown up into a smart, dashing young man not yet a media rock star. And I remember the pride and hope and exhilaration I felt hearing Barack Obama speak for the first time at the 2004 Convention. A friend called me right after and said “We’ve just heard the first black President of the United States.” A lot of blood and politics under the bridge since then.

This year, I feel like I’m about to tune in to the finals of American Idol – only in this case, the eventual outcome really matters. There were times over the past 18 months that I thought we’d never get here and it’s still three more months to Election Day. So it’s essential that the Democrats put on a really good show, since it seems that’s what politics is in 21st century America, where the cashiers at fast-food restaurants press register keys with pictures of food instead of numbers. And they shouldn’t worry that the TV ratings for the Convention won’t come anywhere near those of the actual American Idol (neither may the subsequent votes), it must still be spectacular. It has to have the power to wash away the heavy crusts of cynicism, bitterness, indifference and distrust that coat so many Americans. Like George Burns said when they asked him what was the secret to great acting, “The thing about acting is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you got it made.”

We need some creative liberal artifice to combat complacent affluence, war mongering, profiteering and oppression. The conservatives cry “Class warfare!” like it’s a bad thing, but we are in the midst of a most desperate class war and the poor, working class and middle class are losing, big time. The Democratic Convention must be a splendid kick-off to the battle royal ahead.

The mainstream media has done and is doing a piss-poor job of covering this campaign with any real measure of gravitas and humor, intelligence, and insight. I hope they shape up for the Convention and the remainder of the campaign – but I also hope I win the lottery; I’m not getting my hopes up. But hope springs eternal.

This is some of what I’m not hearing anyone say:

Because nobody wants to discuss race forthrightly and intelligently, no one has explained that Barack Obama may occupy the social category of African-American, but he is inherently biracial; I’m biracial and I know how this works. He is, by every fiber of his being, a conciliator. He has not been equivocating about his views and positions, he has been seeking common ground with the opposition. George Bush has no concept of the Loyal Opposition. Have his ignorance and arrogance made everyone forget what negotiation and compromise look like? Is our microwave impatience so all consuming that we don’t understand you can’t effect significant change quickly, or all at once, or before you get into power? Obama is not a revolutionary, he’s a change agent, there’s a difference.

Joe Biden may in some ways be the epitome of traditional Washington, but he’s also a decent guy with working/middle class sensibilities who is well-known, well-respected, and knows how the system works. Since dismantling the system before you have something concrete and effective to replace it with is, to say the least, counter-productive, it’s important to have a senior associate who’s got your back. Obama and Biden don’t make a good show-biz team and that’s unfortunate; that’s what Barack/Hillary would have been. But they make a good leadership team. Do we remember leadership?

This country is in astonishingly serious trouble and four more years of Bush-style governance could destroy us. Obama/Biden are not a panacea, but they are a viable alternative to genuine disaster. We should try not to make the Ancient Mayan prediction of the end of the world in 2012 a self-fulfilled prophecy.

I’m polishing up my non-flat, non-high-definition, TV screen. I have to remember to buy popcorn.

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