Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Art of Politics: Honest Bastards, Phonies, and Authentic Spirits

“The most essential skill in political theater and a consumer culture is artifice. Political leaders, who use tools of mass propaganda to create a sense of faux intimacy with citizens, no longer need to be competent, sincere, or honest. They need only to appear to have these qualities.”  —Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion, the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

In a lighthearted mood leading up to the 2008 election, I wrote the following:

“Among the worst lies George W. Bush has told is the one where he insists, ‘we do not torture.’ That was a doozy.

      I don’t know where he gets that. I mean, he tortures me every time his goofy self appears on television. All it takes is the sight of his bow-legged, cock-strut across the White House lawn, and my face goes twitchy, just like Clouseau’s torture victim Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Then, as soon as he opens his mouth, and his words wrangle their way toward my ears, hinting of a sloppy, sottish past (is the drinking in fact past?) — ‘Thish is an impresshhive crowd -- the havezsh and the have morezsh. Shome people call ya th’ elite -- Ah call you mah bayshe’— I cringe.  What can I say? It’s painful—he might as well be pigging on hot dog, smacking and chewing with his mouth open. 

     I don’t know if I can make it to January 20, 2009, without some kind of intervention on the guy. Like impeachment.

      Help!  Please, my friends, bring us a President who at least honors the Office of the Presidency —for a change— with eloquence, a resonant voice, and, even if he isn’t going to bring us Medicare for all, even if he supports 'clean' coal and 'free' trade, at least he has the ability to think on his feet and speak coherently.

      I think you know who that is. It is NOT John McCain.

      McCain. Think about that. It’s bad enough that he is painfully uncomfortable in his own skin, that is, physically, yes, but metaphorically in his ethics, values and opinions too; but the spector of McCain in the Presidency is nearly as horrifying as that which resides there now; we’re talking asymmetrical, puddin’ face, stiff-joints, a nasal tonality and an inspirational deficiency that simply will not improve with time. It’s only gonna get worse, Folks. You vote for McCain, and it will be nothing but four more years of Bush crimes against our aesthetic sensibilities. Don’t do it.

      What it boils down to is this: do you want four years of goose bumps, or facial tics? The choice is clear.”

To be fair to myself, I was never entirely seduced by Obama. I knew of his duplicitous character way before the day I voted for him. The surface charm, his affable presence, never quite erased the memory of his having voted for telecom immunity after promising not to vote for it. And I’ve never been one to judge by anything but behavior, with “trust only movement” my mantra for many years. However, with that one small lapse of critical judgment in comparing those two political choices, I could see the upside, as wobbly as it was, of a vote for the first black President of the United States. Besides, sometimes you have to allow yourself to be seduced just long enough for your seducer to reveal his true character— “give ‘em enough rope, and they will eventually hang themselves,” as the saying goes.

Now that Mr. Obama has revealed himself and decided, apparently, to push Social Security and Medicare over the cliff, along with grandma, along with the poor, the middle class, and everything the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for, hey, what I wouldn’t give now for an honest bastard in the presidency! What I wouldn’t give for a president who, while he might not be the virtual embodiment of eloquence and grace, would not represent, every time he opened his mouth, the political equivalent of kitsch, aesthetically speaking; that is, sly-sentimental propaganda, a pretense of art, charming lies. At least when Bush spoke, the aesthetic was consistent with the corrupt nature of his soul; with Obama, the inconsistency between the aesthetic, the presentation, vs. his behavior —eloquence, calm, while screwing us and slaughtering every known progressive virtue and principle known to all— sickens beyond the worst any artless villain can inflict on the wounded sensibilities of my inner citizen.

Let’s face it: Obama is the political equivalent of kitsch in the art world—he’s the Thomas Kincaid of politics, a phony who offers us nothing but pretty lies, a betrayal of authentic commitment.

As for the authentic spirits —the authentics in the art of politics— I would mention Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison, among others.

That our most authentic progressives have been marginalized paints another picture, though, one of America as captive to a kitsch-loving mentality that defies all cures short of wiping it all away and starting over, with a commitment to uncompromising ethics, where democracy itself is not marginalized, and truth reigns. Otherwise, we’re stuck with the spirit of uber-capitalist, masculinist values of power, domination and competition that permeate the entirety of society, from the elite ruling class all the way through to Facebook and

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