23 April 2008

A different kind of election?

Michael Leddy's comment to my previous post made me think that despite all the distance and the word-bites that constitute almost our entire picture of the American election, maybe it is possible to get the sense of it about right.

In what I have read and seen, I've been surprised and discomforted by the cynicism of the Clinton campaign, a kind of scorched earth policy that would bring the house down so no one else can live in it.

Yesterday, Guy Rundle was talking about the appearance of Hillary on Good Morning America, in which she apparently promised to "obliterate Iran". I'm surprised I missed it actually, as it's on at about 5.00am on our television and I'm usually up trying to get young Sweeney Payne, aged six weeks, back to sleep.

I can't imagine what she thought she was doing saying crap like that on morning television. I can only imagine the context, but it seems to me she often rushes to occupy the vacuum the failure of neo-conservatism has opened up, something Obama seems loath to do.

Hillary is angling to make Golda Meir look like a Geelong regional office special needs coordination program conflict resolution officer and part-time reiki masseuse, with an incredible ad which appears to suggest that Bin Laden started the War in the Pacific using Hurricane Katrina against Pearl Harbour, and the only person who can stop him/them/it is a pants-suited terminatrix from the future.

I was recently surprised to hear left-leaning friends of mine all enthusiastically endorsing Hillary, including Doug, whose passion for American politics and history should not be doubted. Even amongst informed people working in politics, the feeling seemed to be almost universal. I put it down to the powerful pull of the gender question. Does it look like a woman President is a more momentous leap into a progressive future than a black one? Given the economic and (there's no better word) moral state of America at present (I'm thinking of Iraq, Guantanamo, waterboarding etc, etc), it seems to me that Hillary the insider, behaving as she is, is not so much a step backwards but pretty much the status-quo, same-old same-old candidate.

In a comment, Michael says:

Here in the States (United, that is), the ABC moderators have been widely criticized for focusing the first half of the debate on distractions and nonsense — e.g., flag lapel pins. No one on the stage was wearing a flag lapel pin!

...And neither were most people watching the telecast! Surely that's the problem with the supercilious question: If a flag lapel pin denotes patriotism, and the lack of a pin suggests a lack of patriotism, then patriotism is in short supply on the streets of America given the woeful lack of flag lapel pins everywhere!

We could say a lot about the strange fetishization of the American flag in that country (without it, Jasper Johns didn't make any sense), except to note how very strange it looks to the rest of the world, if I can speak for the whole world for a moment. I'm trying to think of a flag that carries a comparable weight in the national consciousness - maybe the French? Certainly the tricolor is as symbolically loaded, but nowhere near as evident in their popular culture.

I say this as an inhabitant of a country whose flag is an image that is constantly under dispute. Statements of a Republican nature (yes we are still a nominal monarchy) always quickly lead to discussion of the flag. Personally I find the presence of the Union Jack on our flag bizarre. I'm always reminded of something my grandfather once said, that his Irish policeman father refused to acknowledge a flag that had the symbol of his enemy in the top corner.

There's no doubt that American political commentary goes some strange places. Yesterday 'The Australian' reprinted an op-ed piece of puffery by P. J. O'Rourke, who has at least the benefit of being funny, even if he often mistakes flippancy for wit.

Some people say John McCain isn't conservative enough. But there's more to conservatism than low taxes, Jesus and waterboarding at Gitmo. Conservatism is also a matter of honour, duty, valour, patriotism, self-discipline, responsibility, good order, respect for our national institutions, reverence for the traditions of civilisation, and adherence to the political honesty upon which all principles of democracy are based.

If you got through the second sentence without feeling nauseous, you're better than I. It follows that if you're Liberal, you must be dishonorable, cowardly, unpatriotic, irresponsible, with no sense of duty and so on and so forth. This is civilization?


Michael Leddy said...

Good analysis, Sean. Part of what the Clinton campaign relies upon in the dismal attention span of many voters -- one can say anything for short-term purposes, and then it'll fade. So Clinton can criticize Obama for talking about hypothetical foreign policy decisions and then, weeks later, talk about bombing Iran.

Anonymous said...

You two guys have waaaaaaay too much time on your hands

- Hell's broke loose in Georgia and the Devil deals the cards

Crritic! said...

I can't speak for the devil, but the first bit is certainly true.