The story was a giggling GOP oppo plant, but that didn’t stop the kewl kidz from running with it. I don’t need to remind you about John Kerry and his “butler” and the “green tea” and the “wit-whiz” psuedoscandals of 2004. If Clinton were still the front runner, she’d be portrayed in the press as a cross between Dalmation draped Cruella DeVille and Evita Peron with her 100 million and Bubba trophy husband. (Actually, she is — they aren’t taking any chances.)
Meanwhile, you have a temperamental, fabulously wealthy, flip-flopping, seventy one year old warmonger on the other side who’s being called “the coolest guy in school” by 20-something reporters.
Nobody should be surprised or unprepared for this by now. I think Obama’s campaign people underestimated how this label could be applied to their guy and they allowed it to play out in Pennsylvania in ways that should have been anticipated. But then I have always wondered why Democrats are always off guard every time this hits them.
The reason most Democrats seem so caught off guard by this, the constant repetition of the unassailable fact that our candidate — whoever he or she is — is a whiny pussy is that they don’t get what it’s really about. I’m not talking just that he or she isn’t a whiny pussy, or really bowls very well, or likes orange juice, or windsurfs and drinks green tea. It’s not just that they’re trying to argue the facts in a campaign about first impressions and whispered innuendos. It’s not just that they’re trying to argue the facts in a campaign that’s not about facts at all, that (as Interrobang points out so wonderfullyhere) is all about throwing six things at the wall so that you can’t pick just one to argue back against and instead you say fuck it and head to the bar while they declare victory.
It’s that the elitist, guy-you’d-have-a-beer-with, person-just-like-me presidential campaign is, at its heart, about powerlessness.
Not theirs, either. Ours.
It’s about the assumption that on the really big questions, the war questions, the economy questions, the universal questions of justice and law, the questions of class, the questions of race, the questions of land and freedom, the questions that truly make us who we are, on those really big questions we can’t honestly affect anything. How much can we do? Look around. We got a Democratic Congress elected only to watch it roll over for everything the Bush administration wanted, only to see the war go on for two more years. We got candidates elected only to watch them betray the things they promised us they stood for. We got new media started only to realize that no matter how many books we sold, nobody’d listen to us anyway. We kicked and screamed and fought and bit like wild dogs and for every step forward that we take together about half of us are bitching at the tops of our lungs that this isn’t the right way, give me the map, I’m gonna drive from now on, not you.
And that? That’s me beingencouraging andoptimistic. That’s me being the person who’s usually telling you to call your senators, show up to the rally, write wet-noodle Harry Reid a letter asking him not to be so bull-tits useless all the time. That’s me beingkind. Every single goddamn time somebody suggests that maybe you shouldn’t sit in your house and be directionlessly pissed off, that doing something is better than doing nothing always, always, a half a dozen asshole concern trolls pop out of the sewer pipes to point and laugh and mock your involvement, to tell you it’s dumb and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Asshole concern trolls, by the way, being employed by the major news networks, the RNC, or the American people in the form of Republican and Bush Dog Democratic congressmen, so it’s easy for them to sneer with a large microphone while you whisper into your tiny paper funnel.
We’ve all heard them: You’re an idiot, hippie. Sit the fuck down. Why are you protesting, hippie, protests never made anything happen (look for a renewed interest in THAT topic around convention time from professional “sensible liberal” fuckheads). Why are you writing to your dickheaded Republican senator, he’s not gonna listen. Why are you wasting time arguing with pro-lifers, with pro-choicers, with people who oppose or support the death penalty, why are you wearing a T-shirt that says Torture is Not An American Value, why are you doing anything? Don’t you know you can’t do anything? Didn’t anybody tell you? And a startling number of people who are supposed to be on “our” side are eager to join in because if there’s one thing a bully’s good at, it’s getting your own friends to laugh at you while he beats you black and blue.
And so after about 30 years of this, interspersed with memorable incidents in which people who did make a goddamn difference got shot a whole lot, what you end up with is an electorate convinced that the only thing they have the power to affect is the brand loyalties of the person they’re putting in the Oval Office. You might not get somebody in there to end the war and bring about the second New Deal but you sure as fuck aren’t gonna have to put up with a Pepsi drinker being all in your face all day. Or a guzzler of orange juice.An eater of arugula. Just fucking kill me now, but that’s where we’re at, that’s how our imagining of our own power has shrunk. It’s about powerlessness.This is all we think we have. Of course nothing’s different now. For eight years we’ve been told all we could do about terrorism was go shopping, for fuck’s sake. You can’t do anything. Sit in your house and be scared. Go to the mall, that’s an act of courage. They’ve asked us for nothing and so that’s what we’ve given, and slowly we’ve come to believe that that is all of which we are capable.
I used to think what happened to Gore had happened because the world was basically okay in 2000 for a lot of people so why not waste time on what he was wearing; then Kerry, in 2004, got hit with the same crap, and I thought, “There’s actual, real shit going on right now we need this man to deal with. Why’re they hassling him about ordering green tea in a restaurant? And why in the name of all that’s holy are people VOTING based on that?” Because it’s all they feel they can do. Because it’s all they have power over. Because the big decisions, in every other way, have been taken out of their hands. If all they’ve got left are the small ones, then that’s what they’ll argue. That’s what they’ll decide.
It’s not even that you’ve got a hammer and everything looks like a nail. It’s that they pounded in all the nails, took off the hammerhead and gave you a stick. Told you to hit a piñata with it.
Told you that was what it was for.