I had to watch the repeat of the Vice-Presidential debate tonight, which means I got to see all the people a-twittering about it first. Based on what I was reading, I expected something very different from what I saw. But then, I’m about as politically ignorant as you can get. (Without using the word “repug” […]

I had to watch the repeat of the Vice-Presidential debate tonight, which means I got to see all the people a-twittering about it first. Based on what I was reading, I expected something very different from what I saw.

But then, I’m about as politically ignorant as you can get. (Without using the word “repug” or spitting out complaints about “liberals” like it were a dirty word, of course). My vote in the 2008 election was already decided back in 2000, so the only reason I’ve been following the election at all is to make sure neither Obama or Biden is exposed as a baby cannibal (and even then, I’d want to get more details on the baby and its tastiness before I rush to judgement). I’m ignorant partly out of laziness; partly out of a misplaced optimism about the “representative” part of “representative democracy;” and partly because whenever I watch unprocessed “news” I get the urge to punch, kick, and stab things, and it doesn’t go away until I change the channel to cartoons.

So I was surprised to see anything other than the images the headlines and pundits have been creating for me over the past month: Palin didn’t trip over herself or start babbling completely incoherently or pull out a gun and shoot a moose, skin it, and make a rape kit out of it. And Biden didn’t plagiarize someone else’s speech (I’ve still got residual punditry from the last few campaigns running around in my brain), yell at her for being an idiot, or pull out his gun and threaten to shoot Obama if he tried to take it away. Instead what we got were two reasonably well-spoken adults going on television in front of millions of people and delivering their parties’ talking points.

That’s not to say that it was “close.” There was only one person in the debate who proved himself qualified to be Vice President, much less President. If I were Biden, I’d have been insulted at even the implication it was a contest — my estimation of the man went up 100 times, if only because he never stopped and said, “Seriously? I’m supposed to be responding to that?” But he wisely chose to take the situation for what it was: simply another opportunity to campaign for Obama. The only ones who could consider it “close” are those who’ve become so cynical and numb to the political process that they’re simply analyzing the analysis with their responsometers, abandoning any pretense of actual government and simply paying attention to marketability and watchability, like the crassest of TV executives.

And that’s not an insult against Governor Palin. She doesn’t seem to be an idiot, she’s just completely unqualified for the position. She’s got personal opinions I find reprehensible, and her comment about extending and expanding the role of Vice President (which Biden forcefully smacked down, making him even more of a bad-ass) was downright chilling. But she didn’t come across as the babbling moron she’s been made out to be; she’s simply a mouthpiece for the New (circa 2000) Republican Party, as constructed and manicured to be as market-friendly and watchable as any Disney Channel teen music sensation. She’s a friendlier Ann Coulter, a less emasculating Hilary Clinton, as comfortable makin’ potluck for a PTA meeting as she is stickin’ it to those fatcats in the oil business, carefully chosen to have all the qualities the GOP appeals to its pro-life, anti-gay, straight-talkin’ no-BS voter base.

Her forced folksiness, with all the “you betchas” and “Exxon Mobil, God bless ’ems;” her avoiding answering questions in order to hit on pre-scripted talking points; her “oh boy I guess I sure AM an outsider!” — anyone, even the most politically ignorant of us, could see that that was fake. Evading the issues, regurgitating sound bites and catch phrases (I hear McCain is a “maverick,” huh?), then being called a “winner” as long as she looks pretty and doesn’t make an ass of herself. And as transparent as that is, we’re all going to fall for it, and the issues will disappear in favor of the surface stuff. And the surface stuff is all we’re going to hear about until the election.

Every time an election comes around, the same idea gets repeated across the “liberal” internet: to win an election against the Republicans, you’ve got to play by their rules. And it’s always bullshit. For starters, it just plain doesn’t work: as much trouble as “Murphy Brown” went to to remind us that Dan Quayle misspelled “potato,” George H.W. Bush still ended up winning that election.

And more importantly: how about simply listening to the greatest thing Obama has said so far? “America, we’re better than this.” Why hasn’t that been the overriding theme of the election? How come that great message was so quickly forgotten, and instead we keep hearing bullshit about lipstick and verbiage and being able to see Russia and not reading magazines? McCain’s campaign has started calling that “gotcha journalism,” and dammit, they’re partly right! We should be better than this. Obama and Biden are keeping the high ground in the election so far, relatively. But the relative high ground is still neck-deep in crap that’s designed to keep us distracted from the things that are really important.

We should be looking at spectacles like this year’s Republican National Convention, not for pointers on how to win an election, but in the same way the narrator of a Lovecraft story looks at what he’s found in the basement: a twisted mockery of humanity. All I heard about the RNC was “wow, Palin’s going to wow them in the polls” and “ha ha, they left the green screen on behind McCain.” But what I actually saw of the RNC just revealed how frivolous those observations are. It was a horror show: the Fox News look to the whole proceedings (right down to the typography!), the sigh of relief when it became clear that Bush & Cheney wouldn’t be appearing, the very fact that the party of the incumbent administration was preaching “reform” and “change.” The lowest moment was Rudy Giuliani’s sniveling, Gollum-like speech in which the former “Saturday Night Live” host chastised the “liberal media.” And then he snickeringly dismissed Obama’s community service and coming from a modest background, in stark contrast to the party’s claim that they represent “everyday folks.”

Calling out Republican political figures for individual instances of “hypocrisy” is like scolding a rabid dog because he won’t sit; it’s missing the forest for a single pine needle. They’ve spent decades studying the media currents and political hotpoints, and then gradually and systematically twisting them into something unrecognizable. It’s like Frankenstein’s monster, finding something beautiful and wanting to understand it and cherish it, but he can only end up destroying it:

  • They complain about “political correctness” destroying the language, and then slowly turn the innocuous word “liberal” into a name you’re supposed to spit out derisively.
  • They’ve commandeered the word “patriot” while promoting laws that undermine the Constitution.
  • They’ve commandeered the word “elitist” to try and convince people that intelligence is not only unnecessary to become President, it’s a hindrance.
  • They complain about sexism when the most memorable thing their VP candidate did was compare herself to a pit bull with lipstick.
  • They complain about Big Government and intrusion into personal lives, and then propose Constitutional amendments and federal statutes against abortion, marriage, privacy, whatever “social conservative” issue (or non-issue, in the case of flag burning) will get those few extra percentage points in the polls.
  • They know the Democrats (you’re not allowed to say “Democratic Party”, because they’re trying to change the word “Democrat” into a dirty word as well) have traditionally done well when they talked about small towns and the workforce, so they’ve tried to position themselves as the heroes of Main Street, never mentioning how much of their money and support comes from corporate executives and the “Big Business” they claim to be wary of.

The whole core of the Republican party and what it’s supposed to mean has been rotting away for so many years, that I’d come to the conclusion the only rational reason a person would vote Republican is because he’s fiscally conservative, and he sincerely believed that Republican government was better for the economy. Apparently, not so much.

So what are we left with? Not anything recognizable as actual people, certainly. We’re left with talking points. The former-POW soldier maverick President and the government-outsider hockey mom. When their own party is so willing to reduce them to vague sketches of human beings designed to represent a demographic, do those of us who oppose that party really want to join in? And just shout “fundie!” and “fascist!” and snicker over sound bites and stereotypes, then cross our fingers and hope they lose in the polls?

I like a good bit of mean-spirited low-brow comedy as much as the next guy, and I like a little bit of propaganda as long as it’s funny enough. But I’m feeling nostalgic for the days when elections were corrupt and dishonest, instead of just meaningless. “Ignorant” doesn’t automatically imply “stupid,” it can just as well mean “lazy” or “fed up;” and I’m lazy enough to expect the media and pundits to deliver the salient points of the platforms to me, and fed up with the fact that they keep delivering nonsense.

Obama/Biden is the first Democratic ticket in 12 years that I’ve actually wanted to vote for, instead of just voting against the other guy (Gore didn’t reveal himself to be such a bad-ass until after he won the election, dammit). I’m not naive enough to believe that 100% of what they claim is true, or that they’ll come through on 100% of their promises. But I respect them just for retaining enough of their common sense to know what to claim and what to promise.


  1. Joe Avatar

    I am heartened to see a little more substance in our politics. I am an obsessive follower of politics, because I hate myself, and I remember a time long ago when I was able to read conservative articles and think, “yeah, I disagree with this guy, but I can see where he’s coming from.”

    I thought many conservatives used reason and logic to explore their positions and that partisan disagreements primarily emerged from a different set of assumptions: Conservatives believe in smaller government, therefore X, Y, Z. Liberals believe in greater government, therefore A, B, C. The X, Y, Z’s and A, B, C’s were different for the different parties, but most agreed that facts mattered, within the admittedly squishy realm of political discourse.

    But these last 8 years, wtf. I have been speechless. I haven’t been speechless the way one might be speechless as he listens to the brilliant orations of some super genius at a Stanford Continuing Education talk. I have been speechless the way one might be speechless when he walks into the laundry room and sees his child sitting in the cat’s litter box, building a log cabin with cat turds.

    The Republicans aren’t conservatives. They are Dadaists. And I think the country has finally realized that toilets aren’t art after all.

  2. Chuck Avatar

    Well put, Joe. The point I’d been trying to make — before decongestants and being up at 5 AM turned it into yet another anti-Republican rant on the liberal internet — was that the core of meaning has been hollowed out to the point that even my previous cynicism seems naive.

    When I watched the VP debate, I saw a politician versus a talking head, and I was wondering how it got to that point, when exactly human beings were removed from the equation. It’s common knowledge that Palin is out of her element, and the reaction has been to make that the key story, instead of anything substantive the “real” candidates are trying to say.

    I keep complaining that the current administration has been manipulating the ignorant for over the past decade, without realizing that I’ve been just as manipulated. I’ve been vilifying “the Republicans” and reducing them to stereotypes almost as gleefully as Michael Moore does. Now, when I try to sincerely figure out why a person would vote Republican, I can’t — is it just over abortion, or the economy? Have the parties really managed to make flag-burning or gay marriage into election-defining issues instead of the side issues they should be? Or are people voting strictly on partly lines and not for candidates, exactly the same way I voted for Kerry simply because he was not Bush?

    I’m trying to be sympathetic, and not falling for some “blue state idiot” stereotype that I’m supposed to believe actually exists. I can only come to the conclusion that the GOP has betrayed them, giving them media manipulation and talking heads instead of substance.

    And then I realize that the media has manipulated my ignorance just as much — I’m supposed to feel guilty or stupid that I’m not as up to date with names and places as the pundits seem to be. But isn’t that their job? To keep on top of everything and fill me in on what’s relevant? Really, I shouldn’t be embarrassed I can’t name the Secretary of the Treasury off the top of my head, unless Wolf Blitzer should be embarrassed he can’t name the lead scientist at Black Mesa.

    But instead, all we hear is that somebody either can’t pronounce or willingly mispronounces “nuclear,” or mistakes the name of the US General in charge of our forces in Afghanistan, or may or may not have correctly used the term for Bosnian Muslims. Seriously: who the hell cares?

    I realize it’s easier to discredit someone for being stupid or ill-informed than it is to treat them like an adult with differing opinions, but it seems to me like that is where all the action is. Because as much as we like to believe that “agree to disagree” is the end of a conversation, it’s not: some people’s “differing opinions” are just plain evil, and there’ve been some seriously horrible infringements on civil liberties and assaults on the Constitution going down.

    And the GOP is saying, “There we go, looking backwards again instead of looking forwards,” trying to absolve themselves of any accountability. And everyone’s response is, “Well, that’s a well-stated and even-tempered stance that will do well in the polls. Instead of paying attention to how absolutely abhorrent that is, let’s see if we can make fun of how they don’t read newspapers or get a name wrong or mispronounce a word.”

    I think the other lesson is: if you’re annoyed by sound-bites, don’t get your election coverage from Twitter.

  3. Joe Avatar

    “If you’re annoyed by sound-bites, don’t get your election coverage from Twitter.”

    This is an awesome quote, btw.

    As for the other stuff, I am currently reading a book called “What’s the Matter with Kansas”, which tells the tale of how Kansas went from being a hot bed of socialism (yup) to a hot bed of conservatism extremism. It’s a fascinating read, if you are interested.

    If not, here is a summary: “It’s a class war”.

    Here is a wikipedia summary: