Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It
I have to admit I really do feel sorry for Hillary, who, as of this writing (the evening of Tuesday the 8th) looks likely to lose her second primary.* I wouldn’t even vote for her (not after her war vote--sorry, Hil)--I just have this helpless gut-level empathy for the bitter disappointment she must be experiencing. As Matt Taibbi wrote, “In what may turn out to be the final cruel irony in a career full of them, Hillary, at the climactic moment of her political life, now sees herself transformed into a symbol of the corrupt status quo.” There’s a way in which I kind of feel like she should be allowed to be President just because she wants it so much, the same way I feel about John McCain (who, cheeringly, looks like he’ll win New Hampshire) and the way I felt about poor old goodhearted Bob Dole back in ’96. She probably is better prepared to be President than Obama is. And he’s not any less beholden to corporate interests than she is. But Obama’s appeal, as everyone but his campaign staff admits, is based more on what he is, or seems to be, than on anything he’s done. It’s about his race, his youth, his oratorical magic. It’s just not fair.
But Presidential politics are not like local or even senatorial elections, which are decided on the basis of mundane factors like voting records, issues, and name recognition. They’re mythological rituals. And even curmudgeonly cartoonists have to admit that it would be an inspiring vindication of the myth of America we all like to believe in to see a black man become the president of the United States. Especially after eight years of the worst, most smug and undeserving, arrogant and entitled white man of all, the whitest white man, George W. Bush.
It’s an irony and a shame that the most interesting election campaign in my lifetime comes just after I became incapable of caring about it. I remember how, toward the end of his career, when David Brinkley would still appear during elections as an elder commentator, he no longer even bothered to conceal his boredom and contempt for the whole absurd charade. He'd just seen it all too many times: the campaign promises that meant nothing, the attack ads, the "gaffes," the "bounces," all the fake horse-race excitment. And of course a lot of the current excitement is just advertising hype—the same artificial suspense they have to generate every four years just to sell papers and keep up the ratings, no matter how foregone a conclusion the election is. Reading a recent article about the imminent New Hampshire primary, I was reminded that Bill Clinton’s celebrated “comeback” in ’92 was coming in second to Paul Tsongas. I was like: Paul Tsongas? I haven’t thought of Paul Tsongas in—well, I guess it’s been exactly fifteen years. I think I may even have voted for him. All I remember about him now is that he seemed reasonable, and looked like one of your friends’ dads. So let’s bear in mind that the current epidemic of Obamamania may be no more significant or enduring a phenomenon than the ascendancy of Paul Tsongas.
But there's more to my indifference than a healthy resistance to media noise. The last eight years have taken a lot out of anyone who cares about this country, much less the kind of vulnerable sap who squanders a lot of intellectual energy and passion on politics. The 2000 election, stolen in a bloodless coup, was an unbelievable affront to democracy that ought to have had angry mobs firebombing the Supreme Court building, but the 2004 election was, in a way, even more profoundly depressing and enervating, in that (despite those suspicious irregularities in Ohio) it appears to have been fairly won by appealing to the good old honest stupidity, bigotry and cowardice of the American electorate. We’d already had four years of George Bush by then, Iraq was clearly a disaster, and a majority of voters said: yeah, we want more of this guy. It was then, I think, that I lost all faith in my fellow Americans. (See this week’s Onion op-ed: “Yee-haw! My Vote Cancels Out Y’alls!”)
It wasn’t just the elections but the daily assaults on intellectual honesty, common sense, and basic human fairness and decency which characterized the Bush administration. It was torture turning from an atrocity into an issue. It was seeing people like Karl Rove acting publicly proud of things than any normal, well-brought-up person would be ashamed of. I remember a few years ago people went around sputtering with speechless outrage all the time. You used to overhear respectable, taxpaying, homeowning citizens wishing aloud that someone would just shoot the President already. But after seven years of it we’ve all gone morally numb, limp and apathetic like condemned men in the last hour, until even the war in Iraq has become sort of like The Simpsons, something I’m aware is still on but have almost completely forgotten about.
But perhaps even more damaging than these specific outrages has been the gradual erosion of optimism that comes from having lived through forty years of elections. I used to get excited about candidates, and got my hopes up that things might actually change for the better. I voted for the few candidates who actually said anything that sounded sane or reasonable in the primaries, watched them lose to whomever looked most like a game show host, and then dutifully voted for whichever indistinguishable stuffed shirt the Democratic Party foisted off on us in the general election , from Mondale to Dukakis to Kerry, and glumly watched them lose, too, to fake Jesus freaks and fag-bashers and warmongers.
Of course almost as bad as seeing your candidate lose, it turns out, is seeing him win. Even the best of men and intentions falter when they come into contact with the inevitable corruption and compromises of the real world—especially in that place where the real word at its most sordid and venal oozes through the skin of civilization like a boil, Washington, D.C. Jimmy Carter was and remains one of the most honest and decent men in public life in this country, and may well have been one of the few authentic Christians to sit in the Oval Office, but his ineffectual presidency ended in the dragging humiliation of the hostage crisis. And for all my fondness for Big Bill as a cartoon character, the Clinton administration, from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the Starr Report, was one long, embarassing exercise in compromise, concession, and defeat. The single best moment of the Clinton presidency was election night 1992. I took big bites out of a raw onion with some friends in Baltimore that night, for reasons that would be difficult to explain out of context.
At this point in my life I no longer believe that one individual is going to change things. It’s much, much easier for one man to make things catastrophically worse (like George Bush single-handedly dismantling the Constitution and Geneva Conventions, or some asshole going on a schoolyard shooting spree) than for one to make things better. And this country's real problems are systemic, not the fault of any one person or party. And I worry that Bush has done too much damage to be undone. We may just be fucked. But perhaps this just means that I no longer have any right to draw political cartoons and write screeds that'll discourage idealistic, hopeful, excited young people. It's just pointlessly mean, like telling little kids we're all going to die or telling high school kids that their current friends are probably not really going to be their best friends 4-ever. Don’t mind me, kids. It’s your generation, and maybe this will even be your year. I hope you all have a blast and get laid doing campaign work. I hope your guy wins it. Eat the onion. And savor the taste of it, because it’ll probably have to last you a while.
*As testament to the ephemerality of these conventional wisdoms, today, the morning of Wednesday the 9th, it turns out she's won it. I find I am relieved for her but also horrified, since I don't actually want her to win. I'm an idiot. Why would anyone pay any attention to what I think?