Jimmy Breslin‘s good company to be in. Jimmy and me are the kind of people that *modern* people don’t have much truck with. Newsflash: Jimmy & me don’t give a shit. Here’s why. There’s a grand tradition of the independent curmudgeon in American thought, and it runs counter to stereotypes of acceptable discourse. We mimic Socrates, such a royal pain in the ass that the Athenian oligarchs’ only solution was to poison him. Or Diogenes’ unseemly performance art, wandering around Athens, lantern in hand, searching for an honest man.
We curmudgeons are burdened by our obligation to remember. When you add cultural memory to the many obligations of modern life, the going gets rough. Momentary Culture is the order of any day. Momentary Culture is like a single one of the thousands of two-dimensional images from an MRI scan – a paper-thin slice of a human. Each slice no more represents the human than page 326 represents an encyclopedia. But at any moment, the improbably attractive ex-class presidents imitating journalists on cable news offer a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional culture. Naturally, it’s better for them if you don’t remember the slice they showed you last week, or month, or year.
We curmudgeons feel obliged to image the body of our culture in three dimensions. It’s what Jimmy Breslin did late last night, in a Newsday column that he’s been putting out for so many years but which, he says, he’s done with. He’s going on to greener pastures, having called this election for Kerry half a year ago and, it seems, uninterested in the hullabaloo over what has seemed obvious to him all this time:
Jimmy then goes on to explain his reasons. He cites the fact that Bush lost to Gore by 500,000 votes, and 537 in Florida, where Nader had 125,000 votes. He’s got a lot of other technical reasons, like the youth vote and Cell Phone Nation’s unpolled proletariat. (check ’em out), but they add up to the same message. Bush is toast, put a fork in him.
Not Quite the Only One in America…
All year, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that Bush would lose to whoever the Democrats put up against him. My reasoning was that Bush wouldn’t earn more votes than he got last time and that his opposition is highly energized. Even Jimmy Breslin lists the analytics supporting his reasoning, something he must do to fill his column and support his position, but the conclusion has always seemed so obvious, I just stuck with the basics:
Now this is thematic analysis, which you’d expect from an English Literature major. There are a few constant themes in life, and a uniquely American theme is that our Presidents better be smart, articulate, courageous and accountable. We Americans may form our impressions of those traits instinctively, not intellectually, but we’re clear about the requirements. Those requirements have driven lifelong conservative voters and newspapers to endorse Kerry.
Another of those requirements is sportsmanlike conduct and an aversion to bullies who’ll do anything to win. Consider this: Everyone, on both sides, accepts unquestioningly that the Rove/Ashcroft axis will punish people who speak out too stridently against Bush. Ponder that for a moment. Our passive acceptance of that fact is anathema to the American Experiment, right up there with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. We curmudgeons are obligated to remember things like that.
Smokers at the Gate
There’s a melancholy presence around most office building entrances: the smokers shunned by their peers banding together based through their single common denominator, a habit killing them faster than the rest of us.
The Director of Finance is out there chatting it up with a part-time stock boy with whom she has nothing else in common, their mutual awkwardness palpable. When you cling to an obsolescing fixation, you become, like politicians, strange bedfellows with other obsessives.
This was how liberals have felt for the last several years (some say decades). The ideologies of narrowly-educated suburbanites and plump retirees moved to the right even as conservatives offered the most lively debates, precipitating think tanks and a blizzard of white papers. Gradually shunted to the left of the shifting mainstream, those who once called themselves liberals became progressives and then, in 2002, became silent. Their notion that an energetic bureaucracy and restrained military could solve our ills had been totally discredited and its sizable base became political sleepwalkers.
Last Minute Fix
As I predicted again most recently, on September 30 (happily, just before the first debate, in Kerry’s darkest hour), many of the vested interests that profited from toeing the Republican line have shaken off their self-interested narrowness and now see our tiny, naked emperor for who he has always been, a small-minded poster boy for arrested development:
The endorsements by responsible papers, from the Albuquerque Tribune to The “heavy-hearted” Economist, paint a picture of thoughtful, reasonable and, often, reluctant editors endorsing Kerry in October, often after carrying the Bush banner for four years. All the Missouri papers have endorsed Kerry, prominent among the 43 papers who’ve recanted their Bush endorsements in 2000. Hell, Kerry’s the first Dem that the Bangor Daily News has endorsed since the 1800s; for the Orlando Sentinel it’s been 40 years. At least they’re braver than the deafening silence of rabidly conservative papers: Bush is just the 3rd Republican in two centuries to not win an endorsement from the Detroit News, and the Tampa Tribune’s failure to endorse is its first since 1952.
This is stirring stuff: any striking departure from well-worn patterns are more indicative of honesty than any of us reinforcing our biases, backing and filling as we seek to support old divinations with new tea leaves. We should not be surprised. Like it or not, real conservatives are far more value-conscious than average Democrats, IMHO. They see the Democrats as pandering to the masses rather than sticking to the values that made this country great.
1980 wasn’t like 1984
Election Night, 1980 seems like yesterday. I was a real estate developer in Denver, wired into the booster club of developers, homebuilders, highway contractors and our suppliers, all believers that we were hobbled by the regulations that the city planners and environmentalists had thrown up to separate us from the hugely prosperous lives we were leading. I went to a party at a highway contractor’s home, a fellow who prided himself that his bids “included doing the work.” We watched a country weary of the liberal rhetoric throw out Jimmy Carter and throw in with Ronald Reagan hook, line & sinker (archaic term for, like, a lot).
It was an amazing, dramatic, peaceful and gentlemanly shift of power. We remarked how we lived in the only country that could shift governments and ideologies so drastically and so civilly. Tuesday night will be the Republicans’ chance to see if they can as graciously cede the reins to the new order. Few are optimistic, so most rational people are hoping for a lopsided victory. My guess all along has been that they won’t be disappointed, but I was surprised on Sunday morning to hear Tucker Carlson agree, guessing that it will be a two-point victory–for Kerry!
The big losers in this election will be both parties, for this is the sunset of broadcast politics, expensive pollsters and the two parties as we know them. Their unmitigated cynicism, reach, grasp and greed doom them and their most extreme supporters to the margins of the political scene, like the smokers shivering outside a New York club that once welcomed them.
I now can get back to my regular programming, which has to do with building communities via web services. The web service that interests me most is the one called Xpertweb, which had been my passion and avocation for over a decade. That hobby was interrupted 18 months ago when I came across the NeoCon train wreck that derailed our great nation, fueled by its passengers’ fears that evil non-Christians might strike again. I felt obligated to see if I might help.
The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave man dies but once. Our collective bravado-clad cowardice has caused us all a thousand deaths (over 1100 by the latest count), but history will prove again that you don’t change values in the middle of the stream, no matter how scared you are.
That’s why Kerry is the true conservative, and not the Bushies, who are radical by any measure. America’s core values matter more than the the threat of random violence to us or our peers, leveraged into corporate welfare by people who don’t know any better. I’d rather watch a 767 fly into my apartment window than congeal my core values so I can die in an ICU with a tube down my throat.