Dance of the Ritually Insincere
At the End, I'll Take a Confused Protester Over a Professional Democrat Any Day
NewsForChange.com, August 18, 2000
During the entire four-day Democratic National Convention, there was exactly one instance where I got goose pimples from my tailbone to my fingertips. It was last night, before Tipper Gore trundled on stage, when they piped in what appeared to be a recorded live version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." It's amazing how the shocking truth of a great song can cut right through the mountains of accumulated obfuscating bullshit.
"If you believe in things you don't understand, then you suffer..."
This could rightly be the motto for the confused protesters all week, as they tried to abolish capitalism, and roll back globalization, and "overthrow U.S. ruling families -- Royal Normans, the safe way, for a much better United States."
But more importantly for our democracy and country, the inverse of "Superstition" is also true: "If you understand the things you don't believe, then you suffer."
The Convention, the Party, its delegates and speakers, and the media who cover them, all understand deeply the mechanics of this political teevee show we've been "covering," but believe in it only insofar as it helps to protect their jobs, or at least validate their seriousness of approach. All of them say things they patently do not believe, or at least (and perhaps worse) know to be irrelevant to the governing of our federal bureaucracy.
When New Democrat money-whores like Terry McAuliffe -- the man who Al Gore recently called "the greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe" -- kicks off the Convention by saying "we will always fight for the people, not for the powerful," on the same day that he oversees the extraction of millions more from the Hollywood faithful, he does not believe what he says, unless he is insane.
When Tipper Gore does the Church-Chat Lady dance and hi-fives Latino drummers playing instruments that say "Drums for Tipper," she is not expressing a true reaction, she is deliberately (and unsuccessfully) trying to erase our image of her as the dowdy WASP frump who gave Prince and Frank Zappa a hard time in the '80s.
When Al Gore himself refers faux-converstaionally to "programs with fancy names" -- names, of course, that he's probably memorized for "fun" over the last 25 years -- he is engaging in a ritual insincerity, trying to connect with a breed of people he knows next to nothing about, aside from his interaction at carefully staged campaign events. He is trying to speak the language of lower-middle-class trash, but he (like George Bush) is the millionaire Ivy League politician son of a millionaire Ivy League politician son of a millionaire Ivy League politician. Fat chance.
This dynamic is what's behind the embarrassing fetishization of the kind of "real people" Gore celebrated last night, or of the "working families" in whose name he shamelessly accepted his nomination. When you live in a bubble, and exercise politics as the art of fakery to justify some long-forgotten ideals (something about Martin Luther King, I think), then it is entirely possible to be shocked and impressed when you meet a normal human who tells you something like "uh, I don't have much money, and got no health insurance."
After four days of studying Democrats' habits, I am convinced they believe in four things: racism is bad, pro-choice is good, Republicans are bad, and we sure would like to stay in power. Some of these issues, certainly, were crucial in years like 1968, 1972, 1988 and even 1992. But they are much, much less so, now that a clearly un-racist Republican has won the nomination, and shouted down 70% of the party's "Southern Strategy"-yahoo wing.
Yet since the Democrats have found Republican religion on zealous law enforcement and pro-business policies, the only poll-tested significant main differences left between the two concern aesthetic inclusiveness, and abortion. There is not much left.
This is a sickness of discourse made nearly chronic by our corrupt campaign finance system. Candidates -- even recently elected officials, such as the awful California Governor Gray Davis -- feel obliged to spend more time raising campaign money than actually governing (in the case of Davis, this is unequivocably true, even though his next election is in 2002). I believe the abstraction and phoniness of our politics increases in direct proportion to the amount of money poured into these increasingly pointless political campaigns. The more time politicians spend glad-handing the rich, the more time they spend glorifying a mythical "working family" whose opinion matters to them not one bit.
This is a desultory state of affairs, and I for one will not lend my name, or vote, to it. I refuse to pretend that Al Gore's speech, which he is giving as I write this, matters one damned whit, aside from providing ample testimony to the banality and irrelevance of our politics in the year 2000. Al Gore, like most modern Democrats, can blather on and on about fuzzy concepts that have little if anything to do with how our federal government is administered, while keeping an eye on his dumbed-down interpretation of "public opinion," weighed against the tangible requirements of his donors.
Just now, sitting in a Staples Center sky box, I heard Al Gore talk about not letting "free trade bring labor standards down to the lowest common demoninator." It was popular line, got a big clap. And I know for a fact that Al Gore does not believe a word of it.
Gore is, and for decades has been, a principled free trader, and also a student of economics. As it happens, so am I. I know what an unpopular belief this can be on the Left, but I also know (like Al Gore does) that the overwhelming body of evidence shows that trade between nations produces disproportionate jobs, wages and growth among the trading partners compared to the companies in the domestic economy, especially when measured over time. This is not comforting news to a Detroit auto worker, or Long Beach aerospace engineer, and therefore it has been an obstacle in Gore's desire to solidify support among the usually active unionist Left. The solution (especially when your primary campaign was largely delivered by an early enthusiastic Labor endorsement)? Give a little lip service to what you don't believe, then call and reassure your paymasters after the lights are turned low.
I believe that Al Gore will say and do most anything to get elected president of the United States, such as call for 50,000 new street cops during a Convention that suffered greatly from heavy-handed police tactics, just a mile or two away from a precinct where hastily-hired cops framed and shot maybe 100 suspects, apparently for the hell of it. Health insurance is still elusive for 46 million Americans, 2 million are in jail (many for being on the wrong side of a failed Drug War), and our corrupt campaign-finance system gets worse each minute.
Well, that's enough "up-close politics" for me. No more listening to atrocious rah-rah country-pop songs about "Here's to You," no more facile nonsense about "giving real resources to schools," no more CNN correspondents trying to pretend that any of this matters. It is an interesting parlour game, talking about what will happen if Nader delivers California to Bush, but after seeing the insulting pablum of this week, I'd rather vote for a tree.