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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Election thoughts

I have quoted this passage from Merezhovsky on Gogol before – but the current election season makes this seem all too relevant:

“Everyone can perceive evil in great violations of the moral law, in rare and unusual misdeeds, in the staggering climaxes of tragedies. Gogl was the first to detect invisible evil, most terrible and enduring, not in tragegy, but in the absence of everything tragic; not in power, but in impotence; not in insane extremes, but in all-too-sensible moderation; not in acuity and profundity, but in inanity and planarity, in the banality of all human feelings and thoughts; not in the gratest things, but in the smallest.” –58

This, of course, describes the American election year to a t.

When, in the holy years of democracy, the revolutionary period from 1776-1793, the election in its modern form was created, the inventors had high hopes. The election was to be the poetry of the people, the highest expression of their choice. And what was their choice? Their choice was to be of their rulers, who would be chosen not as choice was made among court factions – where bribery, family blood lines, and charisma held sway, and the choice was made by the sovereign – but rather, as the will of the people would dictate.

The people’s will is foe to the reactionary and the conservative – who took a long time to understand that the election, far from being the beast unleashed, operated institutionally to skew the popular will righwards. That is, to skew the popular will to the most banal choice. Elections, it turned out, would not be about “ideas” or policies, but about what was and was not out of bounds. What was taboo, or what could be made taboo. The all-too-sensible moderation of the pundits and the devil would preside as the judge of all that was electable. And woe betide the candidate who did not make the first move, which consists of being scandalized by his or her opponent. Rival scandals are what is at issue. And other issues are drowned, or given the once over by an establishment which lives off of denying tragedy – all the unconscious buffoons of the platitudinous.

LI early this spring scoped out this election. What was obvious by March was that the economy was going to fall on its face in the fall – although even LI, ever the dupe of street corner apocalypses, didn’t imagine the zona would blow so hard. This counted out the GOP candidate – or at least made his victory unlikely. Of the Democratic candidates, it was obvious that Hilary Clinton would benefit most from a bleak economy. Since Hilary Clinton has been a consistent warmonger, this was not good news for LI. Luckily, Barak Obama ran a genius campaign – we live close enough to his upset of Clinton not to fully appreciate it. And, LI thought, Obama is essentially a peacemaker. It is how he rose, it is who he is. He would garner fewer votes than Hilary, but he would win.

Well, we still think that Obama is a campaign genius, and we still think he will win, but the election has been disheartening.

Our issue, more than anything else, has been peace. Fuck the idea that middle class Americans are running up against their credit card limits – we are much more interested in the idea that the U.S. won’t be pimping mass murder in Iraq. And, earlier this year, when Obama went to Afghanistan and Iraq, we thought he got it. He got, that is, that the Dems can no longer allow the Republicans to own our foreign policy.

For a long time, the Democratic strategy has been to play possum on foreign policy. A craven me-too-ism, with some progressive dressikng thrown in, has been at the center of Democratic foreign policy views. The D.C.-centric, Truman-esque wing of the party, which has no support among the grassroots, but a powerful army of pundit platitudinists, is the very pivot of foreign policy thinking. The platitudinists, with their usual inability to distinguish cause and effect, moan that the American people distrust the Dems because they are too soft. Of course, the root of the distrust of the Dems on foreign policy is the Vietnam war, which Johnson conducted partly because he didn’t want the Republicans to think he was soft.

Myself, I thought, in spring, that Obama was tempted, oh so tempted, to lay down a few truths. This was when he visited Iraq and Afghanistan. This was when his timetable was accepted by Maliki and swallowed, with grumbling, by the Bush administration.

The truths, of course, are outside the bounds of the sayable. For instance, one of the truths is that the U.S. has been far from the central actor in its own occupation of Iraq. Rather, in the first stage of the war, the Saudis made their move, financing the Sunni insurgency and supplying the bulk of the foreign jihadis. What were the Saudis fighting against? It was a step in the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia – just as Pakistan’s nuclear capacity was a step in the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi’s paying for the nuclear weapon research. During the second stage of the fight, what the Saudi’s were fighting against came to pass: the hardline Iranian Shi’ite party came to power. The Da’wa party, which has come out on top of the coalition, was forged under Khomeini, and made its mark as Hezbollah’s consistent ally – Hezbollah even conducted a kidnapping campaign in Beirut in the eighties with the goal of freeing the Da’wa thirty, captured in Kuwait. It was on account of that kidnapping campaign that the Reagan administration opened a surreptitious channel to Iran.

These facts are as plain as day to anybody who actually lives in the Middle East, and are the most remote exotica to Americans, who have been systematically buffered from reality by the platitudinarians – although this might well give that later group too much credit for rationality. In truth, the D.C. centered elites really do think they are running the world.

Now, a foreign policy that is in complete disconnect from reality is much like a neurosis – it needs a talking cure. And I thought Obama was just the doctor to deliver one. But no – he calculated, evidently, that this would cost him too much, and entangle him with the cherished delusions of the elite. Instead, Obama has brilliantly campaigned on being scandalized – he has turned a campaign that McCain hoped would concentrate on Obama’s various transgressions into a campaign about the campaign. Liberals are all in an uproar about McCain’s rallies, and Palin’s rhetoric. In other words, this is another election about nothing. Or, rather, an election about inanity and planarity. The devil has won the round.

Nevertheless, we are going to vote tomorrow for Obama. And we are happy to do so.

4 comments:

abb1 said...

Hmm. Why would Saudi Arabia and Iran have a cold war or, for that matter, be antagonistic to each other at all?

Saudi Arabia is a sort of a Muslim equivalent of the Vatican, little ultra-conservative super-religious absolute monarchy. Its mission is to protect and administer Islam's holy sites. I don't get the impression that it involves fighting Iran, containing Iran, or doing anything to Iran, really.

roger said...

abb1, well, they have been having a cold war for some time. Saudi Arabia is notorious for persecuting its Shi'a minority. The "conservatism" of the Sunni - which is actually a very modern Islamic trend, the Wahabis - think of the Shias as idolators. Whenever radical Sunni groups get a chance - say, in Chechnya in the 90s - they immediately start killing Shia or Sufis (the later being another heretical school). Besides which, the House of Saud has feared the Iranians since the revolt in Mecca in 1979, which was instigated by a group inspired by Khomeini.
Why do you think the Saudis financed the Pakistan bomb? We got to look at the totals of money that went through to Saddam Hussein in the war with Iran, and the totals were in the tens of billions.
"Conservative" doesn't mean very much in this context.
Saudi Arabia isn't the equivalent of the Vatican, either. That would be closer to the official government set up in Iran. In Saudi Arabia, the royal family does not have a religious position. They defend the faith, but they are unable to hand down fatwas.

Surely I am not telling you anything new, here.

roger said...

ps - were you pulling my leg, Mr. Abb?
I was thinking about cold wars. Actually, the U.S. and the USSR nearly destroyed the human population of the earth over the question of how to administer a modern industrial system - through a state payed management cadre, or one paid by each enterprise itself. It may seem to have been a petty thing, from a long distance, but it was a real dispute up close, as important, viz Lemuel Gulliver, as what side you should crack an egg on. Question not the symbols.

abb1 said...

I think there was a little more to it than purely theoretical dispute of how to best administer the economy.

Anyway, it's just that I'm skeptical about this theory of extreme hostility between Shia and Sunni Muslims. I think it's probably more like the USSR vs China rather than USSR vs the US.

I'm also skeptical about the 'Muslim fundies in Chechnya' stories, sounds like Russian propaganda.

But what do I know.