I got all teary-eyed around November, 2008, just like every other non-australopithecine American. But unlike most of my co-evolved concitoyens I was not a sucker. I was delighted that we would now have a rational and evidently morally decent person, rather than a cretinous one, volunteering to take on a role that is for structural reasons morally compromising. But I did not think for a second that this was the dawning of some sort of new era. That would be to misunderstand what a president is.
We have what in places like Turkey is lucidly described as a 'deep state' (though in Turkey it's principally the army that is had in mind, while for us it's a more composite beast). The deep state limits drastically what elected officals can do. It is the permanent structure that endures behind the constant electoral spectacle, and it ought to be the only thing of interest to political analysts. Do I blame Obama for the continuation of the Iraq War, the non-closure of Guantánamo, etc.? Just a little bit more than I blame his tailor. For Obama is, as they say, a suit, and many, many people conspire to maintain him as the presentable image of American power. I am incapable of conjuring any commiseration with the conventional liberals who believe disappointment in Obama the person is an appropriate reaction to his record as president.
However little Obama interests me, the current clamoring of the Republican candidates is of an altogether different order of uninterestingness. The constant din they are permitted to sustain for so many months ought, as someone put it, to be of no more concern to us than the gossip on Jersey Shore. And doesn't the decision to tune in or not to any one of the endless 'debates' feel exactly like the rest of your television viewing habits: passive, recreational, irrelevant, kind of fun?
But I was never a big TV fan, and I feel a bit betrayed by the Internet in recent years for having sneakily transformed into something so TV-like. It could have been a rejection of everything TV tells us to care about. Instead the blogs and the pundits work in perfect tandem, encouraging us for example to take an interest in the details of Mitt Romney's tax returns. Mitt Romney is a classic plutocrat; of course he's getting away with as much as he can. The problem is not this or that indiscretion in any given year's filing. The problem is that one has to be a plutocrat in order to stand any chance of being elected.
Nor do I care about the dog on the roof of Romney's car, or the miscarried child the Santorums brought home and fondled for a few days. Hell, if it helped them get through it, why not? Stranger rituals have been documented in the rich variety of human experience.
Still less do I care about Newt Gingrich's infidelities. I have heard the argument that it is not Gingrich's personal life itself that interests progressives, but only his hypocrisy: the fact that he dogged Bill Clinton in the 1990s for his extramarital affairs, and now turns out to be no better. But we can still be better: we can hold ourselves to a higher standard, and agree that an aspiring politician's sex life is wholly irrelevant to our assessment of his capacity to govern.
As a good rule of thumb, I don't care about anything, really, that Maureen Dowd cares about. She cares a great deal about Newt Gingrich's sexual prowess, for example, and about Callista Gingrich's fashion sensibilities, whereas I don't. Dowd is a fawning courtisane who satisfies an evidently widespread middle-brow craving for page-six gossip by wrapping it up in faux-feminist indignation and moderately witty word play.
Oh, and Jon Stewart is a sanctimonious boob.
And still less do I care about the simple existence of Ron Paul. I myself have splashed around in the swamps out of which creatures like Paul congeal. They are my extended family. They are the cranks on the call-in AM radio shows that were always on when I was a child (KFBK AM 1530, to be precise). They are the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who nevertheless, for some reason, still don't add up to WASPs. They feel cast off, left out, and the world-view they conjure up as a defense reaction is so muddled that for brief moments it can look as though it's motivated by genuine concern about the betterment of the world. But it never is.
I will not vote for any of them, not Obama, not the others. This is, I insist, itself a legitimate use of my right to vote: it is a refusal to get sucked into the spectacle.
Alright, next post: back to Rilke, and to things that are beautiful and that matter.