Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Next American melodrama—2012 Presidential election

In changing times, when there is no plot or sure outcome, and compromise is exhausted, American politics have taken on the appearance of an awful melodrama—a presidential election that becomes a canvas for immense simple choices, exaggerated characters, and paranoid connections. Complexity and respect for the evidence are set aside.

A country that prides itself on its amateurish politics turns its leading politicians into demigods and devils in a Greek drama. The stakes for America become unbearably high.

Back in 2009, Republicans started preparing for exactly this kind of showdown and now look a little snug in their battle dress. They always want a candidate to really believe in but will probably settle for irresolute Mitt Romney.

Conversely, the Democrats are working up a truly dramatic proposition—vote Obama for the survival of America’s social union and activist federal leadership at home as well as abroad. However, a two-great-choices election led by no-drama Obama against weather-vain Romney will require strenuous pre-game work-ups. 

Getting liberals into the spirit of this kind of Manichaean politics, however, is moving along quite nicely. In New York Magazine, Frank Rich, possibly print’s most astute liberal observer, penned an extraordinary piece entitled “What Killed JFK. The hate that ended his presidency stalks us still.”   

“At least in 1963, polling showed that only 5 percent of the country—a fringe—subscribed to the radical anti-government views championed by the John Birch Society and other militants of the right. These days, that fringe, whether in the form of birthers or the tea party or the hosts of Fox & Friends, gives marching orders to a major political party.”

Rich acknowledges that Kennedy was not the victim of a criminal conspiracy and that a climate of violence didn’t literally pull the trigger. 

“On the other hand, read Manchester or 11/22/63 (Stephen King’s latest novel) or any other account of that time, and the vitriol that was aimed at Kennedy in life seems as immediate as today. It’s as startling as that “You lie!” piercing the solemnity of a presidential address like a gunshot—or the actual gunshots fired at the White House last week by another wretched waif. In the end, that political backdrop is what our 44th and 35th presidents may have most in common. The tragedy of the Kennedy cult is that even as it fades, the hothouse brand of American malice that stalked its hero stalks our country still.”

Historian and author James Piereson’s article “Revisiting the Kennedy Assassination: Frank Rich and the Paranoid Style” smartly chides Rich for relying on a novelist to prop up the idea that right-wing nuts and their theories inspired Kennedy’s assassin.

Click on:

Associating the tragedy of Jack Kennedy and the vulnerability of Barack Obama, nevertheless, can’t be undone. An urbane liberal president stood up to hatred and extremism and was assassinated. Liberals, as passionately as conservatives, have their narrative of the 60s.  

Obama Democrats would look silly trying to sell optimism by re-inventing the innocence and arrogance of Kennedy’s Camelot. In truth, the tragedy of those divisive years is infinitely more affecting. Obama will more likely evoke passion in Democrats not by pretending to be Harry Truman but by being himself—a civil thinker, easily as articulate and as attractive as Jack Kennedy.

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