Thursday, October 16, 2008

Living in the Madhouse

The present campaign has me thinking a lot about why many Americans seem to be allergic to hope.

(Please note: This is a draft, and something I want to say as clearly as I'm able, so comments, especially if they provide any basis for further editing, will be greatly appreciated).

I was three years old when JFK was assassinated. While I can't tell you where I was at that moment, images of the assassination, the funeral and his children are much of what I remember seeing everywhere around me from a young age.

I expect there are many my age who are like that, with JFK, RFK and MLK. I do remember hearing about and seeing on TV the coverage of the RFK and MLK assassinations. I also recall Nixon with a special loathing. Something about him, well before the resignation just ate on a nerve.

It couldn't help but color my reaction to politicians, and when I speak to most people who remember that era, I find that, or infer that those memories have a lot to do with our basic distrust of the political process and suspicion towards any politician who manages to remain breathing. It's taken a very long time to appreciate that not all politicians are fully-owned and operated proxies of some shadowy force or another, and it has also primed me (and many others, I expect) to almost immediately see any living politician as a testament to and an example of a politics that is run almost entirely by some shadowy, hidden cabal, some Star Chamber, some shadow government or international conspiracy of whomever.

Looking at this fully would probably take up a book but this is just going to be a reflection on some of the suppositions that have tended to come, most of them largely unexamined for me, until recently.

I look at Obama and see an honorable man, someone who represents almost a caricature of the American Dream that I grew up thinking of as a myth. He's Harvard-trained. He's a conciliator, a consensus-builder, someone who doesn't give in to the easy and pervasive cynicism that has become a sort of rotting heart of American political culture, especially when one considers the many grown-up citizens who so often have simply refused to vote as a way, perhaps, to remain untainted by the insanity of our politics. I'm sure he's not a saint, but every real fact I've learned about him tends to leave me in awe that someone this good and decent could survive the American political process.

And of course that has me scared.

Maybe more scared than I should be, because my fear comes not so much from what I see for real, but from the things I can imagine based on very scant evidence from video clips of his opponent's political rallies... rallies that the polling numbers and my conversations with others suggest are attended increasingly by a rapidly thinning population of people who feel they have been marginalized by American culture, when in fact they have managed to take the reins of a once-powerful political party.

A sub-set that have alienated, by many accounts, a large share of those whose views are at the center of what the "average American" now believes about politics, economics and most other elements that are seen as the legitimate sphere of party politics in America.

Kevin Phillips has been talking about much of this, directly and indirectly, for many years. Just as he astutely dissected the ascendancy of the form of Conservatism that was most represented by Ronald Reagan, he has likewise dissected the gradual wreck and self-parody that Republican success (and popular disregard for politics) have enabled.

It seems clear that we are at a turning point here. And not one that is necessarily dependent on the survival of one person, though I feel it would be so much better for our collective sanity if we could avoid losing this one to another nut-case, or dark conspiracy -- whichever you may think was the guiding hand in assassinations going back at least to Lincoln's.

Please, let the Civil War be over, at long last.

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