So I may be a voice of negativism and cynicism. So be it.
I find the weepy RNC convention in its appeals to compassion to be silly. The very thing they lambast about so-called bleeding heart liberals, they return in tenfold with oceans of tears. Since when did American exceptionalism become the equivalent of a Charles Finney frontier revival where hell didn’t exist and there was no worry bench—let alone frontier? It became this when we all realized we could cry together with no frontier other than our own wonderful imagination of the endless promise of America. Unless you want to become a sci-fi geek, you may as well accept the fact that the “final frontier” is simply something that can be boldly pursued only in one’s own solipsistic comic book version of the fate of the America.
It seems that Hollywood has made so many comic book/super hero movies in the last two decades or so that it has had a deleterious effect on the public imagination. We may as well play Xbox in 3D than have any politics.
No matter how passionately you may hold it (pathos)—no matter how sound your argument is (logos)—no matter how respectable a person you are (ethos), this weepy argument about a comic book America is unpersuasive to the typical a****le who will never disappear despite one’s good intentions. Or let’s not say a****le, but the person who remains skeptical of such good times backslapping.
As long as conventional political rhetoric plays the cry me a river feel goodism, or no matter how much it also plays the apocalyptic this the end of the world trope, it will only excite deep passions, and those passions will only encourage the “we are all doomed unless we hold hands and cry” and let’s get high variety. The corollary is that such rhetoric will have the perennial sober peanut gallery. But that gallery will remain peanuts with too few shells to shuck in defense of good government.
At the RNC convention, Paul Ryan’s near choke up in his salute to his mother, and Romney’s near sobbing about his parents and wife and children were more than evident. Yes, both barely held back tears, but at worst they projected such sentimentality onto the audience. Apparently Romney’s and Ryan’s sincere feelings must be ours as an audience, and if we do not tear up, then there is something wrong with us. This sentimentalism is problematic. In my experience, some of the most thoughtful and educated drunks have also made the best sentimentalists. Is Romney a so-called dry drunk, and Ryan playing to a stereotype of (Irish?) Catholics? Drunks both with regard to passion, and with no “Nocturnal Council” to make their drunkenness speak to some sort of truth, let alone justice, the RNC leaves us with nothing other than used tissues and a tawdry shame the next morning.
In its making all things good with Mitt’s father’s daily roses on the next day’s bedstand, Romney’s speech might as well have been Joel Osteen’s message which told you that in America all things are possible simply because you wish them to be and you believe in God. I too hope this is the case, but I have my doubts. If this is sum and substance of political speech, then it seems nobody knows what the hell they are talking about.
On the other hand, in his typical either/or rhetoric of false choices, President Obama will simply talk about hope (for what?) and change (to what?). He will say, “They (the Republicans?) want you to believe that the individual can drink a Slurpee, all the while giving tax breaks to the rich, and you meanwhile won’t get a ‘brain freeze.’” Obama says, “I stand for the Hoover Dam and the moon landing.” He continues, “They want you to believe that less regulations of the banking industry will help grow the economy.” President Obama replies, “Like Baudrillard, I’m gonna build the simulacrum of the Golden Gate Bridge in your mind.” In his rhetoric, Obama truly offers nothing. They say… “cliché,” I offer…”even more dangerous cliché.”
Nonetheless, neither side apparently ever suffers if they have the right conviction—because conviction, no matter how empty, matters.
Suffering is not exclusive to economic hardship and cancer, but it is something we all endure and need to endure. Politically speaking, this endurance unfortunately leads to resentment which still ought to be exploited in a healthy way. No matter how bad things get, in America, all things are possible. But isn’t one definition of madness the belief that all things are possible for one’s self? Resentment is best when channeled amongst the split personality of multiple media for some partisan purpose.
I liked Clint Eastwood’s critique of Oprah’s weepiness, but then the RNC’s entire presentation prior to that was all about weepiness. The personalized and “humanized” stories—where we learned that Mitt helped out individuals with children who died and were sick and all that sort of stuff—was enough, despite my cynical resistance, to elicit a moist and salty discharge from the tear ducts near my eyes.
Clint spoke against the venality of lawyers and politicians, and then Romney spoke shortly thereafter.
Regardless of the manifest contradictions, I stood with Clint against such weepiness. In his evident confusion, Clint’s performance was enough for me to think the Republicans were desperate to win an office they evidently, in the first place, couldn’t articulate why they should have it and what they would do with it once they won it. Clint may have done more harm than good for Romney’s case in some sort of day to day polling sense, but on the other hand, he spoke to the confusion and near madness that is today’s politics.
After all, Clint’s stated policy preferences—e.g., bring home all troops but keep Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo alive because we have spent so much money on it—reflected the seeming impossibility of being consistent today.
Despite of all this Eastwooding, I like the pundits who say that, in this election, we need to make a serious case based on the recent studies of various expert economists. We need a debate between two versions of policy wonkery. Still, it is mistake to think that politics can be won simply with esprit de geometrie over l’esprit de finesse. If the pundit forgets finesse, the he shows himself as wall-eyed. Unfortunately Romney is all geometrie, and his weepy personal sentimentalism didn’t show finesse but mere emotional effusion.
So the debate is confused over high principle rightly stated and low technocracy defended with expert data. What’s up? First of all, expert facility in the weeds of policy is a pure campaign gimmick, no matter how intelligently it is presented. It provides the charm of competence without any basis from the public to make an informed decision. It is like what many people say—they “believe” in science.
Secondly, no matter how much refinement and enlargement there is, the constitutional offices will limit expert excellence in favor of what a constitutional majority ultimately finds palatable. Representatives may defend and promote the science they believe is truth despite public opinion polls and fact checkers, but they often don’t know what the science teaches for the simple reason that they are not scientists. Even when they do act in the name of anonymous facts like rising seas and damaged planets, they rightly choose for human beings as individuals and families over the nameless facts of science.
If you keep focusing on policy, and no matter how smart you are, you are asking for war. If you get 3% persuadables for your case to make 50% + 1, you are still legislating for the whole, and 50% – 1 will continue disagree—and resist. This is not persuasion, even if the “auxiliary precautions” are designed to keep the policy wonks in their place. You may say the fact of the fiscal unsustainabilty of Medicare must be cared for, and moreover you say that the demographic crisis where there are too many retirees in relation to the number of workers, makes reform necessary. But these facts alone do not tell us how we ought to act, and there is a serious division on this point. You may want to rely on the youth, but I suspect that if you do this you will only make vulnerable populations more vulnerable.
Those youth are truly Randians and Paulistas because they have been educated in the general political culture. This type of student has never had a liberal education, but he is intelligent in America. He has no idea other than what he hears online, on television and on radio. He likes intellectuals like Paul and Rand. For instance, Rand is revolutionary, and an atheist, and an ontological egoist. So is the general political culture—our most persuasive teacher to our most alienated students. Rand tells us that individuals of great talent and ambition need not hold any gratitude for others past and present in order to acknowledge and fulfill their deepest longings for power as proof own their own excellence. But then again, when I recently told my students about an important event happened in Egypt last year, they were confused because the Passover and the sacrificing of the first born happened thousands of years ago.
In other words there is a lot of ignorance.
I would say that those whose adherence to the mathematical rationality of policy is the end all and be all of answering our needs must also recognize the forms and formalities of the constitutional liberal democracy under which we live. You may say that we have always manipulated constitutionalism for policy ends, but this is naïve regarding the powers that the constitution gives to the offices. Indeed, ambition often counteracts ambition.
The founders were not Habermas who views public debate as one where each and every individual and group puts their two cents into the discussion for a distortion free resolution shorn of all partisanship. Partisans in favor of talking about policy and avoiding what they call superfluous rhetoric need to remember that while there may be facts, no one has a monopoly on the truth.
Believe it or not, I understand realities. I’m voting for Romney even if I think politics in the States is nutty.