26 April 2007

Meet The Candidates

I had plans for this evening, but wonder if I should cancel them to stay home and watch tonight's debate featuring eight Democratic presidential candidates, several of whom I have yet to see in action, and one of whom (Mike Gravel?) I'd never even heard of before. Wait, I take that back; a quick check reveals he was a US Senator from Alaska from 1969-81. Something I might be more inclined to remember if I were from Alaska, but I'm not.

Most of these candidates will function primarily as novelty acts, since the real contest is obviously between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with John Edwards having an outside chance should one of the front-runners stumble, though I think his Ken-Doll looks will work against him, not to mention the decision to pursue his presidential ambitions despite his wife's illness.

But really, it's Clinton vs. Obama, and Clinton, despite all her money and celebrity endorsements, has the look of dead meat about her. My guess is that it's Obama's race to lose. I don't know if he's any more sincere than the perennially fawning and pandering Hillary, but if he isn't, he's certainly better than her at faking it. I haven't seen a presidential candidate so capable of rousing and inspiring an audience since John F. Kennedy. Despite his narrow victory (which, some argue, was no victory at all so much as a case of artful vote-rigging in Mayor Daley's Chicago), Kennedy had the look of destiny about him from the moment he entered the arena. Obama has at least a whiff of that aura about him.

Even without knowing many of his policies - and disagreeing with several I do know about - I'm much more favorably disposed to vote for Obama than any other Democratic candidate. The only other candidate of either party I can muster much enthusiasm for is Giuliani, which is odd on two counts: 1) I've never voted for a Republican for any major office; and 2) he and Obama are far apart on many issues.

I guess my reasoning - or maybe it's more like gut-level intuition - is that a statesmanlike mien and the ability to crystallize and communicate a sense of national purpose is at least as important as the specific political beliefs of a president, and it's in this area that we've been lacking for some time now. Even Bill Clinton, who scrubbed up well and exuded a mostly convincing air of confidence, let a little too much of the huckster and carny-man show through his studiedly folksy demeanor.

If Obama plays his cards right and doesn't say or do anything too foolish, he should have a straight shot at the White House. On issues Giuliani is probably closer to the thinking of the American people, but I have a sneaking suspicion he's going to shoot himself in the foot, if not the head, possibly through further revelations about his personal life (nothing remarkable by New York standards, but a bit beyond the pale in much of the heartland) or more dumb remarks like promising to include his most recent wife in Cabinet meetings.

Of course if the increasingly nutty Naomi Wolf is correct, we needn't worry about next year's elections at all, because according to her America has already embarked on a 10-step journey to fascism. She is not alone in these views, but the majority of those who share them seem to come more from the 16 year-old "I hate my parents" demographic. Or the "petulant Americans denouncing George Bush in the Guardian" cohort, which appears to mine similar cultural ground.


Joshua said...

This is from a UW professor of German history who also teaches a class on the Holocaust. He and I were discussing the article yesterday and as he may be termed and expert (an Arsenal supporter as well so his character is flawless) I'll simply post his comments

"Yeah, I saw this and it's pretty eye-opening. Perhaps I'm a bit over sensitive to this sort of thing because I study the history of Germany in the 20th century, but when you look at the pattern of behaviour from the current administration it's enough to give one pause. People always forget that the Nazi's had been in power for six or seven years before they started mass killing. Interestingly, when Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi instituted a national boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. They had to call it off after a day or two because it was a complete failure. German interest in antisemitism (outside of certain narrow circles) was very limited. It was only after years of propgandizing and laws passed under the pressure of "emergencies" that people came around. Even then, it's worth remembering that the major death factories (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, and Majdanek) were all out in eastern Poland, out of sight of the general population.

Anyway, I could natter on about this until the cows come home. Suffice to say that the article was interesting and a bit frightening."

Larry Livermore said...

Frankly, I'm more concerned that a UW professor doesn't seem to understand the proper use of the apostrophe.

John said...

I think it's a bit harsh to say that I don't understand the use of the apostrophe. I used it correctly in four out of five instances (and given that I typed that message at about 6:00 in the morning I feel like that was a pretty good percentage).

Larry Livermore said...

Four out of five = 80% = a solid C, at least where I went to school. But that was high school, not a major university.

In any event, I'm sure you know your apostrophes and the mistake in question was merely a typo; my ribbing you about it was actually an oblique way of suggesting that Naomi Wolf's level of analysis was roughly equivalent to a misplaced apostrophe or a Rage Against The Machine video. I was surprised that someone of your expertise would take her hysterical natterings so seriously.

John said...

Fair enough. Wolf's article was a bit overblown, and I might have taken a bit more critical attitude in my comments if I'd thought that Josh was going to forward them to some more serious observer. That said, I think it is worth noting that the Germans in 1933 were not markedly more hateful, hysterical, or uncivilized than we are. For my money, the thing about the history of National Socialism that is most frightening is how easy it was to get such people to the point of being complicit in mass expropriation and mass killing. It's certainly arguable that the similarities between Germany in the 1930s and the modern United States are superficial. The point is not that the Bush folks are consciously planning to take the country down that road, but that if leaders do choose to do so it's easier than you'd think to get people to go along, irrespective of their level of culture and civilization. People are frightened in this country right now, and I certainly don't think it's hysterical to say that the political leadership is making use of that fear, often in quite alarmining ways. There's nothing intrinsic to Americans or their political culture that would keep them from going down that road, although I don't think we're quite as far down it as Naomi Wolf does. The point about the history of National Socialism, and with human history in general, is that (at least potentially) mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.

John said...

Also, for the record, I'm still only a grad student, not a professor yet. (Perhaps this explains the lameness of my previous post).

Joshua said...


It's the internet, you can be whatever you want to be. Take me, I'm a viking just like the Vinlanders!

Oh and Larry, Sunday is going to be fun for us, maybe not so much for you.