Monday, September 29, 2008

what's wrong with America

In an earlier post I suggested that we increase elected officials' pay if they pledge not to actually do anything that affects our lives. This week (and it's only Monday!) the semi-permanent residents of the District of Columbia have offered hints that they're willing to do this for free. The current fear-mongering regarding the $700B bailout boggles the mind; I wouldn't be surprised to read in tomorrow's paper that the incidence of miscarriage among pregnant women (the demographic most in danger of suffering miscarriages, by the way) has skyrocketed in light of the House's failure to pass the Bailout Bill. I, of course, have no idea (and no way of having an idea) how serious the problem will be in the absence of massive government action, but I can't help but feel manipulated in light of the all the . . . well, fear-mongering (to repeat a phrase).

What is even more depressing is the way the Democrats have blamed the Republican leadership (I can barely type the phrase) for failing to strong-arm the twelve votes by which today's bill failed, while the Republicans have bravely laid the blame on a partisan speech (a speech!) by HM Pelosi. McCain and Obama, for fear of being pushed off the front pages, have likewise blamed each other and each other's party for today's non-events and the DOW's response. Apparently, we've had eight years (not ten, not six, but eight; 2000 was, if we remember it correctly, the zenith of American — nay, of human, culture) of a right-wing government screwing the ordinary person. Either that, or we have a slender majority of Legislative politicians only interested in partisan bickering. It depends on who you believe. (NB, it does not depend on any demonstrable and rational argumentation.)

Every politician, whether of the Rs or the Ds, has failed to recognize, however, that they are the problem. Not the D behind their name; neither the R. It is they. All of them. The problem isn't "the failed policies of the last eight years" (that cliché needs to be retired!); neither is it do-nothing Congress that, paradoxically, is both less popular than W and simultaneously poised to become more of what it already is come November. Rather, the problem is the utter and complete lack of leadership within the I-495 Beltway. There simply is no leadership in Washington, and by definition that leadership lacks both a D and an R.

That, I think, goes some way toward explaining the Palin phenomenon. I've watched with interest as April DeConick has vented her frustration (rage?) at both Palin and those who are energized by her presence in the race. DeConick, of course, has a number of legitimate concerns about Palin, and her expression of those concerns is in no way unique or unusual. But I'm not convinced that Palin is as popular as she is simply because men find her physically appealing or because conservative Republicans are stupid. Of course, neither am I convinced when she says Republicans
have nothing except their own self-interests at heart. They are using Palin to present themselves as a party for Every(wo)man, when in fact, they are a party dominated by a white male elites who are more concerned about making quick money (and getting bailed out) at our expense and our children's expense and their children's expense.

This is the same kind of partisan rhetorical excess of which both parties are guilty and which has no value except for being excessively partisan and rhetorical.

Rather, I think Palin has energized the Republican base because she taps into the general ethos throughout the country that beltway insiders — and not whether they have an R or a D after their names — are themselves the problem. Neither Obama nor Biden, and not even McCain, tap into this ethos as convincingly as the governor from almost-Russia. Palin is as far away from "inside Washington politics" as you can get, whether geographically or ideologically (which is to accede the point that she doesn't know what every other presidential and vice-presidential candidate knows). Of course, being from Alaska, she does have a unique vantage point vis-à-vis the energy debate we need to have. But I think she could accidentally call the British PM "Gordon Blair" and a significant portion of the country wouldn't care. She's not an insider. That might make her look uninformed, but it also makes her uninvested in the status quo. Obama's original appeal, by no means disappeared but certainly diminished (at least from last spring), was the appeal of an outsider, but his tit-for-tat campaigning against McCain, and especially his choice of insider-extraordinaire Joe Biden, has left Palin the sole candidate campaigning for office space at 1600 Pennsylvania with substantial NKOTB appeal.

Palin clearly isn't ready to be POTUS, and I can understand why many people worry about her being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. But it seems to me that Obama is just like Palin, only without the heartbeat's breadth of insulation. The primary difference between Obama and Palin (apart from policy perspectives, of course)? Both have been enrolled in intensive tutorials on domestic and international politics since the summer, but Obama is a Sophomore, while Palin is still a Freshman. Oh . . . and Obama is at the top of the D-ticket. In the meantime neither Obama[-Biden] nor [McCain-]Palin are "what's wrong with America." Rather, it's the irrepressible partisan rankling that has distracted politicians of both parties that they serve the people of the USofA rather than their party membership.

UPDATE: Chris Brady makes available this voicemail from Obama's campaign. This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about, above. Of course, McCain's campaign hasn't eschewed flinging mud of its own, though to be honest this voicemail surpasses anything I've seen that comes directly from either campaign.

No comments:

My Visual Bookshelf