I have that helpless feeling more and more now that usually visits us all only in nightmares, where we see some ghastly process slowly unfolding in front of us that we are absolutely powerless to stop, alter or even object to. That is, for the past several months now, normally reasonable people have increasingly behaved in odd and obscure fashions, saying things of surreal implausibility and insisting that the most unlikely constructions of “objective” reality are in fact not only valid but undeniable.
Fortunately, this only happens every four years, and I have learned over time that it has something to do with something called a “presidential election.” Soon after the “election” (which is actually a kind of confirming coronation of one or the other of two rivals selected by invisible priests with access to absurd sums of money) people return to a more “normal” life, which is to say an eccentricity of a lower energy state, and we can all get back to the world as we know it.
In the interim, we are treated to an accelerating crescendo of nonsense, in which one writer on these pages finally blurted out that we are all nincompoops of the first water, and that we should abrogate most decision-making to the superior intellect of the State. To be fair, we agree with him about the nincompoop thing; it’s the blase and illogical conclusion that state-employed nincompoops are any wiser, better-informed or more trustworthy than we are that I object to.
One of the most infuriating parts of this whole process is the bone-numbing shelling of our frontal lobes by an artillery of arguments so obviously silly and so easily tossed aside that we wonder — is this simply a quiet and secret form of amusement for the political class? Do they giggle in secret huddles where they say “Let’s tell them that the federal government built the Golden Gate Bridge (it didn’t — Marin County bonds did) or “How about if we just claim that he’s a closet communist (there’s nothing “closet” about it.)
Then there is the whole Red Team/Blue Team aspect of it all, wherein each member of a party must adhere to a preordained Dogma without variance. If you favor abortion, then you must also accept global warming. If you want smaller government, then you have to endorse the “sanctity of life” (even as you cheer every drone strike on a Pakistani village). How these ideas cohere is mystifying, but somehow essential.
We also get a tremendous amount of “ends versus means” confusion. You object to the specific structure of Obamacare, then you want people to get sick and die. You question the “let the free market rule” primacy, and you want to plunge the world into the chains of communism. Even J. P. Morgan didn’t want a purely market-driven economy (he thought it encouraged excess competition, waste, corporate irresponsibility and recklessness), and even the hardest-hearted conservative doesn’t want your grandmother to die because she can’t afford her blood pressure medication (but might object to a state-sponsored medical machine that spends $100,000 a week keeping people on life support in the last two weeks of their lives.)
By now, though, the agony of all this tumult and shouting has become almost unbearable. The twin banshees of the New York Times Op-Ed page, Maureen Dowd and Gail Collins, outscreech each other each passing week; the bloggers of the right wing hurl progressively more bizarre accusations at an increasingly puzzled Obama (“they have so much they can legitimately complain about,” he must ask himself, “why do they have to make things up?”). I’ve had it.
For most of my life, I actually paid very little attention to politics and politicians. This may have resulted from early electoral choices of dismal dimensions: Nixon/McGovern, Ford/Carter, Reagan/Carter, Reagan/Whoever, and on and on, in an apparently endless streak of dull and disappointing nonentities who had somehow scrambled up the political rope ladder with sufficient monkeylike dexterity to grab the brass ring in the crow’s nest. It seemed no different from the annual contest in school and college for class president, student council, etc., where various smiley gladhanders would compete in an election that influenced my life in no way whatsoever.
Imagine my dismay when I realized a few years ago that the student government had real power. Who would have thought it? Who in their right mind would turn over such vast authority over such complex issues to so many demonstrably inept and undistinguished people? Well, we did. We went to work for banks and law firms and companies and other organizations that we thought were the actual centers of decision-making in this country, and let the second-raters — the Kerrys, the Bushes, the Gores, the other also-rans in the real game — have all that electoral stuff. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
And maybe Mitt Romney isn’t a hopelessly second-rate political hack, and maybe Barack Obama isn’t a spineless spinner of self-promoting fantasies. Does it really matter? Reality has little place in this process. Each day the media tries to persuade us that this remark or that by either candidate is clear proof that they are unfit to govern, as if there has ever been a president or a person that didn’t say at least ten stupid things every day.
I just want the whole thing to be over, so that we can all stop acting like hysterical ninnies. Get back to our lives. Get on with the important stuff. Nixon went to China. Clinton presided over posterity. Did anyone see that coming? Whoever wins, the next four years will probably be less a world of their making as it will be of ours. That’s where our attention needs to be.
Still (Bill, this is for you), yes, it does matter, and it matters very much. Having assigned our governance this gang of latter-day Visigoths, we have to try at least to select the least harmful. This may entail some short-term pain, but neither Dowd nor Collins are mandatory reading. That’s some solace. And these days, I’ll take what I can get.