Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Gums of August, Flapping in Denver

I’m sorry about no new postings for a while,a nd letting Rob carry the blogging ball. I guess I have been somewhat preoccupied with some personal concerns, but now that the convention season is here, let me adjust my focus to concerns political. So I watched most of the convention last night, and I learned that Michelle Obama neutralized her image as a person with sharp edges by downplaying his personal politics (and her extraordinarily successful career), by talking of her marriage and parading her cutesy-pie kids. Despite what Hillary said many years ago, the only role still accepted for a presidential candidate’s wife is to stand by her man. I always feel incredibly uncomfortable that contemporary politicians and their handlers think that it is politically crucial to focus so much on a candidate’s personal life, but of course the whole point of modern presidential politics is to elect a first personality

Presidential conventions feel a lot like the Olympics, with stage-managed spectacle in the bird's nest obscuring whatever hard news there is, lying somewhere underneath. Even if their function has changed, conventions still enable observers, if they look carefully to see the clanging gears and widgets of party machinery interacting fitfully with the greater populace and democracy outside, and it always is an interesting spectacle. I tried to prepare for the convention by reading some classic convention reportage, Norman Mailer on 1968, and an anthology of H.L Mencken’s reports on conventions from 1904 to 1948. H.L Mencken, I am happy to report, holds up just fine, acidulous personality sketches, the drumbeats of his pleasingly bombastic rhetoric, and the occasion genuine insight (though these are out-numbered by observations several barn-lengths wide of the mark.) Still, its hard to pick up Mencken and not realize why he was so popular in his time, and why I would, had I been around in the 1920s and 1930s, once I had gotten over my “institute the dictatorship of the proletariat in Soviet America now” phase, would have read him avidly too.
As for Norman Mailer, I can only ask did he really exist? Or rather, why did anyone ever bother reading him? The thing about bombastic rhetoric and over the top metaphors is either you can bring it off or not, and whenever I read Norman Mailer I read someone trying so hard to achieve writerly success that it makes me cringe, and it generally doesn’t work, and once you get past the rhetorical patina there’s not much underneath. Does Norman Mailer have the most over-inflated reputation of any 20th century American author?
Anyway, I agree with Rob's posts, the only advice I have for the Dems is that the seams between Hillary and Obama are still showing, and it is clear that there is a good deal of bitterness remaining on both sides, some legitimate, some not. There is no hope of party unity being forged by these two incompatible forces on their own; the only chance there is to unite the party is to attack their common enemy, John McCain, hard, often, and convincingly.

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