What did the state spectacles show us?
So we have had nearly four weeks of spectacle- The Chinese showed us the power of ancient yet emergent culture hurtling into the 21st century; the Democrats showed us the power of hope and happiness amidst difficult times and the Republicans showed us anger and contempt.
The differences were striking. The Chinese, with a culture that goes back to the time of the pharaohs, wanted to really impress the world- or rather, the Western World. In little less than a hundred years after being as colonialist fodder by the British, the Beijing Olympics showed the power of literally masses of people being directed by a iron fist and desperate, hungry ambition to build a country as powerful and as influential as The United States. They hold a great deal of US general bond debt; about 80% of our clothing is made in Chinese factory (including high cost, ‘designer’ goods) and great deal of toys furniture, computers ( perhaps even the one you are reading this blog on ) plastic containers and other gadgets for everyday living is also made in China.
China is the provider of the lifestyle of the current 21st century – quick, fast, cheap, disposable, paid off in low, easy, easy payments with compound interest and no longevity. It’s what Americans are told what they want- and Chinese do their part in providing it. But in providing it, they showed Americans their own lifestyle that has endured- slow, carefully done, handed down, purchased once and with work in kind.
Will the Chinese succumb to the own products and lifestyle that they provide? I hope not. I hope that the mass will they displayed was not just a spectacle of State Power, but a statement about people can and work together to make moments of beauty.
Then, almost immediately after, came the Democratic Convention. Of course, it was already determined that Barack Obama was to be the Democratic nominee. But the show of putting together the Democratic Party had to go on, and it was well choreographed. But what was striking to me was the sense of true optimism, of sense of purpose and dignity. There was Dennis Kucinich, hopping on his tippy toes, his face glowing with genuine warmth and happiness: “Up with people! Up with peace and prosperity! Up with workers!”
There were listening stations for citizens of Denver, there were bikes to borrow and use, and there were examples of locally produced beer and fine locally grown food. There was street theatre, prayer circles and serious discussions amongst ordinary people- bus drivers start up owners, hippies, café owners, librarians, soldiers- about what they could do in their lives to make this country a little better.
Yes, of course there were the lobbyists and favor seekers- yes, there was apparently operatives and reps from the Medyedev/Putin government seeking an audience with the Obama camp. That was to be expected – there could be a change in the government, and it’s good to start making good now.
But the overall sense to show the diversity of America’s mosaic- creating a picture of a modern country trying to work together.
The climax was at the Stadium, where people stood in lines miles deep to hear Barack Obama accept he nomination. Despite what many commentators would state, it was stirring, it was inclusive and it was very good. But it could not be non partisan. That sense of purpose and optimism had a goal- to change the direction in which the country has been, and meant criticism of the Administration and of the party that produced the Administration.
But, when you looked at the people’s faces, you saw genuine, warm love- that quality known as agape
. The hugging of each other, the kisses and high fives. They had every reason to rancorous and angry- and yet they were not. Extraordinary.
Yes, the Democratic Convention was a spectacle- to not only show off the Presidential Nominee, but to also display possibilities of living, opportunities for serious discussion, and optimism. It was an example of the republican ideals of the good life- a deliberate, conscious way of living a life with neighbors.
After hurricane Gustav had past, the Republicans got to have their convention. It was just as choreographed as the Democrats, and just as dependent of music and cheering. But the cheers seemed stuck in the throat, and there was pervasive air of injured dignity, tight lipped disapproval, a strange, pathetic fear and a sneering, snarling anger.
It was baffling at first: they were just introduced to an attractive, strong willed Governor from Alaska, Sarah Palin. She was a conservative, a proud mom of five and a career woman- something to offer and identify to many voters. Their party held the Presidency for 8 years. They had gotten all the tax breaks, all the religious power within reason and the Constitution, all the war contracts, all the expansion of Federal Government ( that would benefit many of the people who were delegates at the convention) . St. Paul had turned into a police state for their behalf. There were plenty of lobbyists paying for extravagant parties for them.
What on Earth could these people be angry about?
And why were the most privileged, most elite of the elite (Why, yes, I am talking to you, Mitt Romney and especially you, Rudy) the most civil and erudite (that’s you, Huckabee) and the most thoughtful and righteous (Lieberman, brother, really?) speaking to these permanently angry, afraid people? Why the graphic display of destruction of property and human life on 9/11- as if most of us did not see it already, did not live it already, and for those of us in grew up in New York, still have headaches from our brains trying to replace what was destroyed?
Why was there such a ready audience for Sarah Palin speech, which said nothing of any true import? Why no mention of the economic problems? Why vague generalities about how people are doing and
I think that the anger and fear the Republicans was an acknowledgement that when it comes to governance, they make bad choices. It was an acknowldgement that they knew they were being rebuked in the last election cycle 1 ½ years ago, when many Republicans were replaced in House races.
It was also a nasty display of jealousy of Barack Obama- after all, the man can’t help it being smart – and it was sad display of reverting to petty, divisive politics- urban vs rural, hard core religious against moderate or non, guns versus non guns owners- all divisions that exist in spectrum, and do not necessarily preclude the other from being.
But worse of all, it was an acknowledgement of contempt for other people. Speakers talked about individuality, and the party of Lincoln and responsibility. Lincoln would be perfectly aghast. The vulgar clamoring for money, the vicious disregard for those with less than you, and most of all, the open, snarling contempt for those who give of themselves to help other would have shocked Lincoln to his very being- seeing as he was an community organizer who helped build the original Republican party into significance.
Yes, those references to community organizers. While the Democrats were exhorting people to be involved in their community and show their personal excellence, Giuliani and Palin had only contempt for people who did- in essence, pissing on the very founders of our nation, who were community organizers standing up for their rights as people.
Finally, it was a spectacle of mediocrity. Sarah Palin was indeed a fresh face, but as things began flying out of Alaska, we discovered aspects to her governance that is exploitative at worse, and mediocrity at its very best. She’s a hypocrite and a liar, a backstabber and a user. She is petty, and sees nothing wrong in abusing executive power. In other words, McCain made the choice that reflects the current governing style of the Republican party. The delegates on the floor, their upturned faces and laughter resembling starved hyenas, saw their own- a person proud of her ambition, lacking in responsibility, and only sees others as a way to make a mark.
Spectacles reflect the way that world is presented to us. Sometimes spectacles can try to obscure the world and present an illusion of threat and insecurity, sometimes it is meant to impress and awe. And sometimes, sometimes, it can be a combination of the two, trying to address issues while proving it is possible to create impressive moments of grace.
Labels: Barack Obama, debasement, downfall of the Republic, McCain, Sarah Palin, The Man