From Liberty Street
I was interested to discover what effect my two week withdrawal from political gossip would have on my overall response to the presidential candidates and the campaign. It turns out it was more dramatic than I expected.
It has been hard since I returned to the United States to take seriously the discourse the campaign whips up. It strikes me as being nothing more than cloudy fluff, cut off from the actual lives people have to pursue in this country.
The issue of offshore drilling is a good example. Whether or not oil wells are sunk in the coastal waters of the United States is a matter of little significance. They won't ever produce enough oil to affect the price of gasoline, and the chances they might pollute a portion of the coastline, though real, are far less ominous than dozens of other environmental problems we face. Opening the off shores to drilling is not a problem that should consume a major element of the public's attention. Yet, I come home to find that it has become a leading point of contention between McCain and Obama. The Republican candidate is driving the question to the forefront of the news with repeated speeches which are, at best, ridiculous.
What's going on? I ask myself. The easiest answer is that McCain believes the public can be bamboozled to his own advantage. So, that's what he's doing. But, as I try to reengage my mind with the commentary on cable political programs, like Hardball or Countdown, a different thesis presses itself on me.
Might it be that John McCain and most of the rest of the political class don't believe anything about the truth or falsehood of various questions confronting the country? Might it be that they never think about truth or falsehood in any way? Perhaps they exist in a social environment where truth has no presence. Perhaps they can't imagine asking themselves what the actual effects of their proposals would be.
As I try to digest the talk on the political talk shows, the sense grows on me that I'm listening to men -- at least mostly men -- who exist for the sake of wandering in a forest of fuzz. The object of the game is to remain in the forest and get closer to its center, which at the moment seems to be the White House. The game has only one rule: no one who thinks about what's really going on outside the forest can be permitted to play.
When, for example, news of bombs blowing up houses and dismembering children filters into the forest, it's not received as a truth that has slammed actual people. Rather, it becomes another element that has to be woven into the fuzz matrix. Somebody has to say something fuzzy about it, and, then, dozens of other bodies, have to respond and refute with equal bags of fuzz. Nobody has to pick up the limp, bloody body of a child and carry it to a place of burial or disposal.
The common, cynical view of politics is of an activity where operatives manipulate and deceive masses of people in order to gain advantages for themselves and their close associates. The most frequent saying about it is, "They're all a bunch of crooks."
But what if they're not a bunch of crooks? What if they're something worse?
A crook, after all, wants something real, and most of the time you can make a deal with him. It won't be much to your advantage, but still, it probably will give you a chance to salvage something. But there's no deal to be made with a pack of fuzz heads. All they want to do is fuzz on, get on TV while they're doing it, and solace themselves with the delusion that fuzzing is the pinnacle of life.
We often hear that politicians are hoodwinking the people. Yet it could be that the only genuine bamboozlement going on is the presentation of politicians as serious men and women. If they could toss and churn all by themselves, then we wouldn't have to worry about them. They could exist simply as a cast of tabloid characters, who might occasionally amuse us but who could mostly be ignored.
The horrible thing about the political fuzz machine is that it's fueled by real lives. Its gassing and belching sets in motion actions that kill people or deprive them of life's necessities. So we can't just be amused, or turn our heads away. But, after being free of it for a while, I'm left wishing that we could.
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