Saturday, August 30, 2008

Personality cults versus serious issues

I watched all the big speeches at the Democratic convention, and I wept. I'm sentimental, for sure, a bred-in-the-bone trait I often abhor not only because it makes my mascara run, but also because it clashes so violently with my righteous indignation and cynicism, making for stormy inner weather. But, tears are also a sign of deep feelings, of connection to others, of love of life. And so I wept in front of the television last week with joy and pride and relief. My heart lifted to see Senatator Ted Kennedy continuing to fight the good fight. I think the world of Michelle Obama, who exemplifies the best of womanhood, the best of Chicago (my home), and the best of America. I am thrilled by Barack Obama's dedication to helping others, his intelligent perceptions of what ails our country and of our country's role in the world; his willingness to listen to others, his strong sense of story, which makes for coherent and empathic thinking. His poise and eloquence. Obama is the finest presidential candidate I have ever seen and voted for. But one day after his historic speech, we were drowning in a muddy sea of mass trivia.

John McCain and his people mock Obama as a celebrity, and then turn around and set up their own instant cult of personality. Obama is a beautiful man, they found a beautiful woman. Obama is a family man with two daughter and a remarkably accomplished wife. Palin has five children; one a soldier on his way to Iraq, the youngest a Down's syndrome child. To many, Obama represents urban American. Sarah Palin is a country gal. She shoots guns, hunts, kills, and slaughters animals. She lives in a state with a small population and a vast and precious wilderness she apparently isn't concerned about preserving. Her husband is a commercial fisherman, an industry in great peril given our emptying of the oceans. Palin is anti-reproductive rights and an evangelical Christian. The calculations in choosing her are obvious and maddening, and distracting. Which is the point.

We are on the brink of environmental catastrophe as global temperatures rise, thanks to our burning of fossils fuels, and the human population increases. Thanks to rapidly accelerated globalization, our resource-consuming, waste-generating habits are spreading to China, India, and beyond. This is not sustainable. Back to our economic woes, they are directly connected to our dependence on foreign oil, which, in turn, is directly responsible for grave geopolitical conflicts. All is intertwined, and all is churning and whirling in a virtual hurricane for which we are utterly unprepared. We have fallen into a narcotized state of indifference and ineptness over the past eight years, years in which we have been at war for no legitimate reasons. This is doing us profound harm, not to mention the suffering we're causing in other lands. Our schools are failing as is our infrastructure. Science is censored; work is no longer respected or rewarded; health care is a Kafkaesque nightmare; the corporate imperative is gutting everything essential to our well-being, from agriculture to newspapers. All that has made our country great is threatened. The lifeblood is being sucked out; we are becoming a hollowed-out, weakened land. We need the four candidates to talk seriously, clearly, and productively about what they are going to do about the crises we face. And we have to put a stop to the crimes and destructive shenanigans of the Republicans.

The world is full of brilliant and caring people. Genuine information and valuable analysis is everywhere available. Take a break from political gossip and read The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank. We're in dire straits for fully comprehensible and carefully documented reasons. Here's my Booklist review:

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. By Thomas Frank.
2008. 368p. Holt/Metropolitan, hardcover, $25 (9780805079883). 973.92.

REVIEW. First published July, 2008 (Booklist).

Frank brings invaluable insider perceptions, ardor, and precision to his lancing inquiry into the erosion of democracy and the enshrinement of the mighty dollar. His One Market under God (2000) was followed by the best-selling What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004), and now Lannan Award–winning Frank reaches a crescendo in this electrifying, well-researched analysis of “conservatism-as-profiteering.” With looks back at Ronald Reagan and Oliver North, and sharp scrutiny of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, Frank documents the hard-to-believe conservative strategy of deliberate misrule and the consequences of the conservative mantra, “Less government in business and more business in government.” Citing numerous, hair-raising examples, Frank explains how conservatism itself became a mega-big business and chronicles the grievous repercussions of the gutting of the federal government and the rise of high-rolling industry lobbyists and contractors, who are now feeding off the “ultralucrative homeland security industry.” In this “age of political vandalism,” Frank observes, we have jettisoned oversight and accountability, accrued “massive public debt,” committed crimes against humanity at home and in Iraq, and endangered the environment, the economy, the food supply, health care, and education. In short, Frank argues, the conservative agenda has defiled the American dream. This staggering history of systematic greed will inject new energy into public discourse as a historic election looms. — Donna Seaman

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