Sunday, November 06, 2011
Tony Soprano for President?
Chances are, if we have friends who consistently lie to us, we tend to wall off that relationship, finding minimal space for remnants of friendship that won't lead to danger or disappointment. A friend who steals things from us is soon to be disinvited from visiting, and one who openly commits violence against others is soon apt to be held at arm's distance lest their gaze and physicality be turned to us. We like to surround ourselves with people who make us laugh, who share the bounties of open hearts or engaged minds. We respect people who make achievement seem easy, and are glad for useful advice that is the fruit of sagely earned or learned wisdom and experience.
Isn't it amazing that so many people cast aside these logical behaviors when deciding whom to listen to in the public square? How we tell ourselves that it's okay to put time-honored strategies for self-preservation out of our heads? That we must submit to betraying our every instinct to choose not what we want but what we dislike less? And truthfully this is only half the story. For a great many people, a political system based on poisonous exploitation and oppression transforms the values that we would recognize as normal, empathetic and humane into a corrupt sociopathology dominated by heartlessness, selfishness, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and rationalization.
Last year at the White House correspondents' Association dinner, President Obama joked about teen idols the Jonas Brothers: "Sasha and Malia are huge fans but, boys, don't be getting any ideas. I have two words for you: predator drones." A friend pointed me to this cartoon from vastleft.com:
This refers to a story mentioned on the OpEd Page of the NY Times about a community meeting in Pakistan: "During the meal, I met a boy named Tariq Aziz. He was 16. As we ate, the stern, bearded faces all around me slowly melted into smiles. Tariq smiled much sooner; he was too young to boast much facial hair, and too young to have learned to hate.... When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the official American position: that these were precision strikes and no innocent civilian had been killed in 15 months. My comment was met with snorts of derision. ...At the end of the day, Tariq stepped forward. He volunteered to gather proof if it would help to protect his family from future harm. ... [But on] Monday, he was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile."
Obama's joke isn't so funny now, is it? I voted for him: I advocated voting for him, and I thought I was keeping my eyes open. And sadly, there was never any chance that the 2008 election would lead to a less horrible moral conundrum than the one it lead to. It is probable that the election of John McCain and Sarah Palin would have been even worse. Not that it mattered so much to Tariq.
Consider Herman Cain, the right-wing Republican businessman with the unlikely honor of being somewhere near the top of the heap of the Republican presidential primary. It's been revealed that he was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, that is, of being a sexual predator using his power as a rich businessman to make life uncomfortable for women working under him. While all the facts of this story have not yet been aired, the evidence strongly suggests not the story of a philandering politician consensually consorting with someone randomly extracurricular to the embarrassment of his spouse, but a man engaged in non-consensual harassment of his employees. Cheating on your spouse is not against the law. But sexual harassment is. And yet a portion of the Republican electorate is not shunning Cain like normal people would do, but actually rallying around him.
Or there's the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, also running in the primary. A couple months ago he accused his fellow candidates of being heartless for his policy of offering some social benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." This small modicum of human decency was too much for the Republican electorate, and Perry was forced to apologize. "I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word and it was inappropriate."
There's pseudo-intellectual Newt Gingrich who, as we've discussed before, has twice ditched ailing wives for healthier mistresses and told outrageous racist lies about Obama. There's Michele Bachmann who has told nothing but fantastic lies in her entire political career and makes government money off the discredited fake-therapy of trying to convert unhappy gay men to heterosexuality. There's Rick Santorum and his unhealthy obsession that the small percentage of gay people in society are at the cause of everything "wrong" with it. And there's poor pathetic Mitt Romney who Republicans are desperate to avoid voting for because even they can see his utter moral emptiness and total vacuity of principle.
These are people I would not invite across the threshold of my front door. Why are we in the position of thinking our only choice is to vote for one of them? Even the ones we convince ourselves are the "good guys" are narcissistic sociopaths. Earlier this year I wrote a defense of lesser-evil voting. I wrestle with this constantly. At this moment I still imagine myself voting for Obama again next year...if only because I fear how much more damage the Republicans could do to civil rights laws. This, knowing that his second term is as likely to be as full of betrayals and disappointments, and of lost children named Tariq, as his first was. Knowing it was a mistake to trust him to be different than his predecessors at the helm of the American state.
But it's why I feel such hope in #OWS: finally here is a flicker that it doesn't have to be that way. Politics isn't all about elections, and elections don't always have to be the way they are today. What if people stopped being willing to vote for sociopaths? Or for would-be child murderers or aspiring rapists? Or valued smart people instead of bigoted morons and village idiots? Or together organized and took for ourselves what is rightfully, morally, our own. The elections — the choice between evil and more evil — become less important, when we create alternatives, when we're actively engaged in changing the fundamental problems and social relations not just hoping they'll get better in time.
Because we really are all in this together. We don't have to pretend Democrats or Republicans represent us, because they obviously don't. We can find our own voice.
We know how a fairytale marriage to Kim Kardashian ends. We know what happens when you place your trust in Tony Soprano. So how come here, back in the real world, we don't know how to change the channel?