Friend, fellow countryman, and international intelligentsia, Patrick Herron, has permitted me to post his recent considerations of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. With permission, Patrick Herron:
A Teddy named Roosevelt, a Roosevelt in a Teddy
A writer-pal of mine wrote today, this ninth day of September 2008, less than two months before what may be the beginning of the very end of what remains of the United States of America, that his head has been spinning ever since he heard Cindy McCain endorse Sarah Palin as a “hockey-momming, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother of five.” This friend of mine, perhaps like many left to moderate friends of mine, voiced his concern that the facts of Sarah Palin are ever-increasingly being ignored, avoided, or whitewashed. Perhaps it goes without saying that this Palin-fear is an ever-growing sentiment amoung young left-to-moderate Obama supporters and quite possibly well-justified. It hasn’t taken those of us born during or after the Vietnam War many years to see promising Democratic presidential campaigns fail utterly. We have seen failure before and know what it looks like from far away just as well as we know the shape of the dastardly tactics and Machiavellian brilliance of the Republican campaign machine.
Yes, that brilliance, cunning, shameless, calculating brilliance. The Cindy McCain introduction of Sarah Palin was brilliant. Sarah Palin is forever cast and projected in the psyches of American “folks” as a female Teddy Roosevelt. With an image like that, few voters with available votes will care about any factual information about her whatsoever, compelled instead by the seductiveness of that image. (It’s the same image that motivated so many to buy SUVs that would never touch an unpaved road.) These potential voters won’t care that Palin as in cahoots with one of the most corrupt senators in history. That she was in on the bridge to nowhere deal. That as Mayor of Wasilla she actually hired lobbyists to represent her town in DC in order to gain earmarks. That she wants to ban important books. That she says the war in Iraq is heaven-sent. That she thinks global warming does not exist. That she defends the Alaskan’s right to shoot large animals from aircraft. That she tells people high oil prices are a result of short supply (they’re not) and that pumping it out of the Arctic will lower those prices (impossible). That she supported or perhaps still supports Alaskan secession. None of that matters to those voters.
With Sarah Palin, the mirror neurons driving identification and Viagra boners driving, well, you know what, are all fired up. *That’s* the base she fired up, friends. There are a lot of fence-sitting men and women who’d like to feast their bored eyes on her and/or live vicariously through her. To the American man and woman watching her, Sarah Palin seems rife with adventure and sexual possibility, an image that by its mere appearance suggests such a possibility into the fat-assed ogling her. Palin’s a dumb babe with a cuckolded husband and a predilection for the executive golfing set. There are a lot of men who find that hot and a lot of women who want to be her. A lot, meaning, by the tens of millions. And each has a vote. And most of them are white, and many of them are looking for an excuse not to vote for an intellectual or a minority, their distrust so deep-seated beyond any reach of awareness whatsoever. But beyond that these Americans stimulated by Palin are a broken and scared people without much money, undereducated by an underfunded school system, paying resentfully into a tax system that funnels the money to the friends of Republican masters who keep wars alive through television spectacles and religion-tinged fear-mongering. Having been captive so long, these Americans, perhaps unsurprisingly enough, apparently feel they need to prescribe some more discipline to themselves through the McCain/Palin ticket (McPain? raising Cain?), as if long work weeks and no safety net, not even one for healthcare, is somehow fair, as if they deserve nothing better, as if they have earned no chance of hope whatsoever.
With Sarah Palin, the Simulacrum may achieve a level of perfection that seems poised to make Baudrillard’s “hyperreal” perfectly and irreversibly true while simultaneously accelerating our collective descent into the dystopian vision of Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy.” There is no nature, only Sarah Palin blasting her way through it, a baby in one arm, bluetooth to her ear, all the while dollars flowing into her account. And that last fact only thrills the few of those idiots just smart enough to catch a whiff of it.
This election comes down to whether Americans want to enjoy success, whether they want to taste it themselves, or whether they’re dumb enough to settle for living another’s success vicariously, whether watching another enjoy luxury on TV is enough. This seems to be the American moment of the hyperreal. Is there a reality? I guess we will learn in November.
There’s only one solution and unfortunately that is whether Obama gets tough. Will Barack Obama show that he is strong, that he can kick ass? (OK so many of the left get squeamish about that, but then, there’s no danger of those people voting for McCain. They will either vote for Obama, vote for no one relevant, or not vote at all.) Such a display of strength from Obama could break down certain archetypes while, um, engorging others with an irresistible raging tide. He can use righteousness and outrage about the facts (of which there are countless) to display his alpha status. So the facts, perhaps as always, become a vehicle of justification for outrage.
Today George Bush took most of the air out of Obama’s “anti”-war stance by authorizing a move of Iraq-deployed troops to Afghanistan. Therefore the issue of this year’s election should be money and how people are pissed off and frightened by all of their money disappearing into the pockets of the kleptocratic bush-McCain axis. How we’ve been ripped off for eight years and how McCain will continue the shakedown. The facts used to display outrage and strength should be about gas prices, declining wages, lost pensions, soldiers being denied medical benefits or being unemployed, people bankrupted by medical bills. It should be about how totalitarian China has just become the world’s technological (and maybe even financial) leader ahead of the US while the US is mired in pointless and deadly wars. This collective message must be deployed as a series of images, images about how Obama will fight for the betrayed American dream, how he can kick ass when it comes to rescuing the American dream. The thunder of “change” has been stolen by the republicans. So it should be pointed out that they are at least very good at stealing. But Obama is the most *potent* candidate, clearly and unambiguously so, and that’s how he can steal his own thunder right back.
And, hell, why not launch a swift boats campaign against McCain? Why are dirty tricks OK when they’re deployed to further harm people but bad when they’re used to help people? McCain after all was known as “POW Songbird.” His military record is rife with nepotism and failure and plane crashes and unforced confessions and more medals and even more nepotism and even more failure. He suffered and let us mock no suffering. But what did he do after 20 hours of duty, five crashed planes, and 28 medals? He swiftly dumped his wife who barely survived a horrific auto accident because she gained weight and married the incredibly loaded hockey-mom-loving Barbie, er, Cindy. Hell, you could even argue that McCain lost the Vietnam war. It’s not a *valid* argument and maybe not even a fair one but when has that ever mattered in an election? And when has the validity or fairness of an argument ever mattered less? It is the validity and fairness of the common American that is much more important.
So think about Sarah Palin as Teddy Roosevelt, even think of her in a teddy. But don’t think about just how huge and virile and Denzel-like Barack Obama is. We all know Obama loves us. We get that. Just as we learned from Bill Clinton in 1992 that he could kick ass, we just need to learn that Obama is very strong, that he too can kick ass, that he can kick more ass than just McPain/Failin’.
Patrick Herron is the author of The American Godwar Complex (2004, Blaze VOX; download full pdf) as well as the chapbooks, Man Eating Rice (Blaze VOX), and Three Poems (Gateway Songbooks). His poems and essays have appeared in journals such as Exquisite Corpse, Jacket, Talisman, Fulcrum, in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and in the anthology 100 Days (Barque Press).
At Duke University Herron serves as Research Analyst and Technologist for the Jenkins Chair where he studies innovation networks via the automated analysis of large document collections and teaches new media studies.
Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.