Saturday, April 26, 2008
There's No Hope. Seriously. None.
[Yeah, it's another weekend rant. Don't know why I bother anymore.]
Maybe it's just me. Maybe things aren't as bad as I think they are. Perhaps a nine-trillion dollar debt isn't a threat to our country; maybe the rising cost and self-limited supply of oil doesn't bode ill. It could be that environmental degradation and global warming are just a bunch of hype; and, I suppose, our country is not facing the possibility of governmental gridlock and economic meltdown. Nor, it could be, is the war in Iraq leading us to self-destruction. I hope so. Because from where I sit, it's now or never.
I really thought people would get it. To me, it seemed tautological: eighty-plus percent of the people think the US is on the wrong track. Therefore, whatever direction they think it ought to take, the one thing everyone might agree on is that the politics of the last several decades isn't working. QED. If there's one kind of change behind which everyone could get, it's the way we elect people. Attack. Destroy. Make shit up. Focus on irrelevancies; distract from the important issues. Fear the impossible, ignore the actual. But no, it's clear I was wrong. Whomever we elect as our next president -- and likely the same is true for most of our congressional folk -- the decision will not turn on energy policy, the war, the unsustainability of our deficit spending. It will be about convincing the electorate (easily, it turns out) that one candidate is a closet terrorist; and/or that realigning our military priorities will amount to "waving the white flag" to al Queda, that someone wants to raise taxes (as opposed to what? Moneh from heaven?)
Barack Obama began his campaign by saying, among other important things, that he'd tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And, to a certain extent at least, he did. For a while. But he's finding out, big time, that that's not a winning strategy. People want to hear what they believe. Which, of course, fits perfectly with the fact that more than any other developed country, we are a nation of believers.
In comments on my rantings, people tell me to cool it. Why, they ask, do I get so upset about religion? Well, it seems pretty clear: the instinct for religious belief has slopped over into politics to the extent that it's made it impossible for us to face facts without magical thinking. Honestly, if people could keep their religious beliefs and their attendant make-believe separate from their ability to confront earthly truths, I'd have no problem with it. But to me, it's of a piece: magical thinking in the face of overwhelmingly difficult problems is the easy way out. It's the equivalent of the brain going into "tilt" mode. Fear of death, meaning of life? Sure. Do what it takes. Energy policy, economics, Iraq? Sorry. We need to look at them clear-eyed. If the magnitude of these problems isn't enough for people to stand up to the muck-meisters and say, NO, not now, not ever again, then it's over. Really. It's over. It's become apparent that the only way people might wise up and say it's time to elect people willing actually to confront problems is when those problems are so unignorable there's no longer any hope of fixing them.
The reason I've been so enamored of Barack Obama is that he seemed to be getting people to understand: what needs changing is not any particular policy (although they all need changing). What needs changing is the way we do politics. Young and old, left and right, people of all colors: if they could agree on anything, they ought to agree on that. Solutions, he seemed to be saying, will come from a gathering together of people of good intent from all points of view. The answers that we find will not be the verbatim policies of any candidate; those will only be a starting point, a set of priorities. It matters less what a candidate outlines in policy papers, than it does how he or she proposes to get there. But after the last few primaries, it's clear that voters haven't bought it. It's too complicated an idea; it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker. Even when the problems are so scary, old politics still works. The middle majority of voters really don't want to hear reality. They want politicians who give permission to look away. Scare and distract. Bait and switch. And if there's one thing we know about successful politicians -- McCain, Clinton, Gingrich, and their enablers, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, et al -- they're master baiters.
I'm convinced it ain't gonna happen. For this election, and so many more that it'll become impossible to reverse course, enough people will be influenced by the usual crap that they'll take us all down with them. Of that, I'm now sure. You see it in the polls, in what people say is important, the filthy ads and the reaction to them. The only thing I can't figure out is this: those purveyors of political porn; do they believe the shit they say and do, or are they the ultimate cynics? Tell people what they want to hear, because it still works. Take what they can get; rake it in while the getting's good; protect the status quo to make their pile and screw 'em all. And if that's who they are, could it be because they're convinced they'll still get raptured up, or is their religiosity just another gimmick, too: the megachurch of manipulation.