Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Ever my thoughts turn toward worst-case scenarios, to catastrophe, disgrace, failure, doom. Lately I’ve been having these thoughts about the election that I don’t see reflected anywhere in public--not in print, at least.
In the better-than-you’d think comedy Head of State, in which Chris Rock plays the nation’s first major black Presidential candidate, there is a scene in which Rock’s character is first approached with the idea of making a serious run. He lapses into a little reverie: we see him standing behind a podium while a brass band plays and balloons and confetti fall around him, grinning and waving for about 1.7 seconds before somebody shoots him.
I know you’ve thought about it, too. We all have. Certainly Obama and his family must have talked seriously about it before he ever decided to make a run. And yet it remains taboo to speak of the possibility, and not just for the same superstitious reason that even atheists still add “God forbid” (or at least “knock on wood”) when alluding to some dreadful contingency. It’s taboo because of what it would seem to suggest about us as a nation, as a people. There's a whole constellation of irrational motives surrounding the support for Barack Obama, some of them genuinely admirable. But one of the more complicated ones is an assuaging of collective guilt, a need to prove to ourselves that we’re past the days of bigotry.
But there’s a half-millennium of institutional racism on this continent, and social progress happens slowly and unevenly, person by person. There are still vast, savage swaths of unapologetic bigotry in this country. I spent fifteen years living in a county where there's still an active Klan chapter, where guys in diners or bars will casually drop the old N-bomb early on in a conversation just to test you out, to see if you’re one of them or some “edjumacated idjot.” This wasn’t in darkest Alabama or anything—it was technically within the East Coast megalopolis, between Baltimore and Philadelphia, just off I-95. There are millions of people out there who chuckle over the wit of the nickname “Obama-Osama.” And thanks to the second amendment, they can all have top-of-the-line, high-powered rifles with excellent telescopic sights.
I recently looked through a book of lynching photos. Being a gentle and squeamish person, I couldn’t bear to look at the burnt and dangling corpses and instead spent my time looking at the faces in the crowds. I am horribly fascinated by these faces. What can these people have been thinking? These aren’t candid snapshots—they’re posed group portraits, trophies, like hunters grouped around a prize twelve-point buck. The people in the crowds look directly into the camera. Their eyes are bright, their expressions tough and smug, humorous and defiant, as if they’re all in on the same dirty joke and you’re some prim schoolmarm who just walked in on the punchline. Only one little girl looked uncomfortable, and as far as I could tell it was more like plain old little-girl “ew” than any kind of proto-moral trepidation. They thought of themselves as restoring the social order, protecting Southern womanhood. The guy who shoots Obama will think of himself as a hero, and so will a lot of his redneck brethren.
If it happens—God forbid—it will be a tragedy not only for one man, those who love him, and those who had pinned their political hopes on him, but for the whole nation. It will threaten to make us believe that the worst among us somehow are somehow representative of all of us. Just when we were on the verge of a symbolic redemption in the eyes of the world, it’ll confirm that we are a lawless, violent nation of racists and killers. It’s important for us to remember that it won’t necessarily mean that. Progress is always rabidly opposed. Political leaders who threaten to disrupt the business of hatred by advocating dangerous notions of peace and unity, from Anwar Sadat to Yitzhak Rabin to Melitus Mugabe Were and David Kimutai Too, are routinely shot. Shit, they killed Socrates and Jesus and Lincoln and Gandhi. The only thing to do is not give up, not to back down, not let the bastards win. Someone else will have to step forward, and someone else after them.
I already feel like a Hillary victory over Obama would be demoralizing enough, extinguishing this freak generational flareup of political optimisim and marching us back to drab, cynical, compromised business as usual. Fun’s over, kids—everyone back to your desks. But it would be unimaginably worse if Hillary won the nomination by default because somebody’d shot Obama. If that happens, she may yet get her wish to be another LBJ—a capable, unglamorous bureaucrat thrust joylessly into power by the death of a far more charismatic and beloved leader, hobbled by a hopeless war she supported against her better judgment, unloved and reviled.
As of this writing, my own home state Maryland’s primary has yet to be decided. For the first time in my memory the primary is more than a formality; it still matters. I sent in my vote by absentee ballot last week. To compensatre for the absence of the visceral pull of the lever, I stopped at the mailbox before dropping in my ballot and asked my friend Ellen to pretend for a moment to be Hillary Clinton and ask for my vote. “Mr. Kreider, can I count on your vote?” she asked me. “NO!” I yelled, and dropped my vote for Obama in the box. “Because of the war!”
Hillary Clinton’s war vote is unforgivable to me, the dealbreaker. What it means is that she is either 1.) even dumber and more gullible than the kinds of people who think drum circles and giant puppets constitute Speaking Truth to Power, since they all knew for a fact that George Bush was going to invade Iraq no matter what the weapons inspectors found; or, worse, 2.) a fucking monster who’d forfeit tens of thousands of lives for the sake her own career. (The peerless Matt Taibbi again: “After all these years in public life, the only time Hillary Clinton sheds a tear is when her own political career is on the line? I didn't notice her crying when kids started coming home from Fallujah in rubber bags because of a war she voted for.”) If it comes down to Hillary vs. McCain in November, I suppose I will suppress my gag reflex and pull the level for Hillary, if only because after the last eight years I’d write in the N.A.M.B.L.A. candidate before I’d vote for anyone still calling themselves a Republican.
There was an interesting Stanley Fish column about the phenomenon of Hillary-hatred in the Times last week. The hundreds of reader responses tended to confirm his thesis that it’s a thoroughly irrational syndrome, a malign virus. This weekend I was talking politics with a couple of female friends in Baltimore, and I was kind of disquieted by their motives for supporting or not supporting Hillary Clinton. One felt like she ought to vote for her out of gender solidarity, as a protest against the kind of prejudice that women in positions of power are routinely subjected to in our society. The other detests the fact that she came to power through marriage, and that she’s stood by her philandering husband. Both of them worried about her fitness as a role model for young women. What kind of crept me out was that neither of them seemed to base their opinions on Hillary's voting record, or her stand (such as it is) on the issues--it was all about personal identity politics and reactions based on their own life experience. And these are very smart, well-read people I’m talking about. It made me feel uncomfortably like some chauvanistic patriarch circa 1912 having a cigar and brandy in a men’s club, chuckling off the notion that emotional women could be trusted with the vote. But this sort of atavistic haruspication at election time is hardly an exclusively female fallacy. Most people vote for very personal, visceral reasons. I'm not exactly bucking the demographic trend myself. Who knows?--maybe on some level I'm only opposing Hillary because she's a woman. If anything it’s only proof that democracy was a nice idea that just didn’t pan out and maybe Plato had it right all along and what we really need is an oligarchy of philosopher-kings. Only problem would be finding any philosopher-kings in this country. Too bad Carl Sagan and Johnny Cash are dead.
Absolutely the only thing that gives me any reason to look forward to eight years of a Hillary Clinton Presidency is the prospect of Big Bill back in the White House, getting’ sucked off, eatin’ gravy fires, smilin’ and wavin’ at all his enemies. Everybody I hate in this country will burst blood vessels in their brains having apoplectic fits. (This, by the way, is the reason my friend Myla, who is Nobody's Fool, chose not to vote for HIllary: her certainty that, if she were to become the Democratic nominee, the Republicans would immediately demolish her candidacy by revealing Bill's most recent pecadillos.)
Let us not consider this election a foregone conclusion, though, especially if it does come down to Hillary and McCain. Although I can’t think of one issue on which I agree with John McCain--except that we’re both anti-torture, which some of you may still recall did not used to be an issue--I find him way more trustworthy and likeable and deserving of my respect than Hillary Clinton, and since I’m way off the visible political spectrum I suspect quite a lot of more moderate swing voters do, too. And there are, of course, a sizable number of voters in this country who just feel an unreasoning visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton for reasons probably having a lot to do with their mothers. The Democrats are geniuses of defeat. Recent history has demonstrated that they can lose to absolutely anyone.
I envy my younger friends who are all ga-ga for Obama, feeling that once-in-a-generation thrill of belonging to a real movement instead of a party, being swept up in a wave of mass shared emotion--"that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil," as Hunter Thompson described it.
Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . .
My friend Megan and I were just comisserating about this. We feel like we blew all our hope and enthusiasm on the antiwar protests and the 2004 election, when we actually went door-to-door in Philadelphia getting out the vote, and we got crushed. What's worse is to think that we wasted that moment on John Kerry. I'm so insulted and embarrassed by the succession of stuffed shirts the Democrats have forced me to vote for in my life: Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry... and now that a genuinely inspiring candiate comes along, I'm too old and jaded to get excited about it.
After 2004 I have zero faith in my fellow Americans. Make no mistake: they are cowards and bigots and fools. They are not turning back toward the Democratic party because they’ve realized the war in Iraq was wrong or that their birthright as American citizens is being taken from them. It’s because the economy’s falling apart and their jobs look uncertain, and they’re scared. To quote Governor Tarkin: "Fear will keep the local systems in line." Rudy Giulianiand Mitt Romney didn't miscalculate to appeal to fear again; it’s just that this year Americans are more afraid of joblessness than they are of terrorists. They’ve forgotten all about 9/11; al Qaeda is so 2001. But if there’s another attack before November they will panic and stampede, in landslide numbers, back to the security of the tough old warmongering white guy.
I am, of course, still banking on George & Mr. Cheney attacking Iran before November and/or postponing the election. I have bet on the latter contingency with Myla.
Special thanks to an anonymous friend of mine who mentioned her worry that if Obama is elected any missteps or shortcomings that, in any other President, would just be subject to the usual second-guessing and derision will instead become fodder for bigotry, reinforcing racist stereotypes. This inspired a hilarious panel of deranged genius which I was too cowardly to run in the Baltimore City Paper but offer here as a bonus for the delectation of you internet connoisseurs. You may only click on it if you promise not to get mad. Okay? Remember, you promised. Okay then. Here it is.