Monday, May 26, 2008

If Blogs Could Kill

Their crocodile rage is father to the thought. The lefty blogosphere and the Obamanaut media are speaking a truth about dark longings – but not Hillary Clinton’s. They are speaking their own. They will not be satisfied until the witch is dead.

Heading into this Democratic primary season, nobody expected this descent into the pit. It felt, instead, like Prague Spring, as though we had an overabundance of hope-iness. We certainly didn’t see the re-emergence of the rough beast, slouching toward Washington to be born-again.

Now that the wheels are coming off, we’re back with the recognition that the center cannot hold. Of course, that’s especially the case when you don’t start out with much of a center. Centeredness and groundedness have never been the Obama Movement’s strength. This has always been a postmodern political phenomenon – deliberately shunning any real ground or tether… of policy, or coalition-building, or worldview… in order to feel itself more and more intensely. That’s the essence of its airy, content-free and expansive appeal.

Only thing is, when the falcon cannot hear the falconer, as Yeats pointed out, it’s not only hope that’s let loose. This is when we see the best lacking all conviction, and the worst revving up their passionate intensity.

We’re sure seeing some of that passionate intensity now. The most recent definition of it can be found at the MSNBC website, in Keith Olbermann’s latest “special comment.” Check it out. That’s the face of hate, circa 2008. And the striking thing about the Obama campaign today – as his actual presence dissolves and fades… and as the prospect of higher euphoric highs evaporates amid the persistent realities of recession, Wright, rising negatives and a shrinking electoral base – is how rapidly and thoroughly hatred has taken it over.

His candidacy used to be a hollow shell into which people poured their narcissistic but good-hearted fantasies. Crowds chanted that yes, they could. Teenage girls swooned – as did journalists, with countless thrills running up their legs. But now the campaign has become a vessel for darker purposes – a socially acceptable pretext for crazed misogyny, for letting go with a good snarl.

With the uproar over Hillary’s remarks about staying in the race and Bobby Kennedy’s campaign and assassination, we have reached some kind of nadir of hysteria. There is simply nothing wrong with what she said – not one word was inaccurate or unclear or malicious or even particularly noteworthy. So un-noteworthy, in fact, that her repeated published references to the primary of June 1968 and its dénouement, in the months before this, didn’t make an impression on anyone who heard or read them – including RFK Jr. The fact that people are actually publishing claims that she is trying obliquely to threaten Obama’s life, or that she was suggesting the possibility of his assassination as the reason she’s sticking around… this stuff is so exuberantly deranged that it can only be sincere.

We should hear the truth in their nouns, names and verbs – but understand that the syntax is a disguise. The subjects and objects are flipped. These people are warming up their hate engines, and heading into town. They are Jim Jones ranting over the PA that Leo Ryan and the rest of his party were the first wave of a coming invasion that planned to wipe them out.

She’s gunning for him, they assure us. We always knew she was That Bad, that far “beyond the pale.” We can't let her continue. Something must be done. In the words of one front-page poster on MyDD, formerly a Hillary-friendly site: “No context can save her. She must go.” Writers in the mainstream media and the blogosphere are engaging in adjectival one-up-manship. Her remarks are “stomach-turning,” Roger Cohen in the Times says. Bloggers aren’t so circumspect:

“A fucked up human piece of trash”

“I would prop up a stinking corpse before I turn to her.”

“Your behavior, Sen. Clinton is subhuman. In fact even animals will be ashamed of you if I were to compare you to them.”

“… she's trying to ‘plant’ ideas. If anything happens...she's Guilty as hell. I'm saving this link and I will make sure she is charged and brought to justice!”

“How much is the bitch offering for the job?”

“Guess we know where to look if anyone takes aim at Obama. And there for all those years I dismissed those rumors of Clintons killing to get what they wanted or to stay in power. Guess I was wrong!”

“Talk About WHITE TRASH that bitch better keep looking over her shoulder.”

In a front-page article – not an opinion piece – the Grey Lady licks its chops and decides it is newsworthy to imagine that she is now a pariah even in the Senate: “There is also the personal challenge of returning to a club where more Democratic members, some quite pointedly, favored Senator Barack Obama and spurned her. For Mrs. Clinton, who has spent years cultivating friendships and raising money for colleagues, that had to hurt.”

Hurts real good, don’t it, babe?

On the other side of this schizoid fear-and-loathing circus, some blogs continue to treat her as omnipotent: “Everyone in the party is afraid of the Clintons.” Afraid, presumably, to tell this “ghoulish” harpy what these brave posters will: “Any human being with a shred of dignity left would concede this race.” But, of course, she has no shred of dignity, or humanity. “What Hillary said wasn't just sickening. The very fact that she said it broke a lot of unwritten norms in this town. And that's horribly telling about who this woman is.”

This explosion of gleeful, self-righteous umbrage is not, of course, a reaction to some actual “new low” in the political history of the humans, but rather the coming-out party for a new high – a rising tide of feeling that is normally suppressed in more polite society, but now finds itself permitted in the public square. Unwritten norms are being broken, all right. And it isn’t grim or resigned, but joyous. We’re witnessing a Renaissance of vitriol, a Ride of the Commentariat Valkyries.

In the trope of Olbermann, this Jonestown’s poet laureate, it’s way past time for someone to take Hillary into a room… and come out alone. He has looked into her soul – her soul, mind you… he actually uses that word – and finds it, to paraphrase Conrad’s Marlow, to be mad.

People, of course, always self-describe. All one has to do is watch Olbermann rage and sputter – so excited he stumbles over his words – to see that he has found a way to express a part of his soul that longed to come out. After years of locker-room wit and invective, he has finally found his true subject – and it has compelled him to cry fire in a crowded theater. He is using his bully pulpit to give full-throated vent to his wish. Like the Jeff Bridges character in The Fisher King – only so much more sincerely – he has called for the myriad misogynists out there to put an end to the soulless monster. Anglachel, as always, nails it.

In point of fact, if Hillary was engaging in any unconscious personal identification with RFK, it was most likely about herself. (Cue the Obamasphere’s derisive snorts: “She’s in danger? Don’t make us laugh. She’s an indestructible monster. She’s the Terminator. It’s the Precious who is vulnerable, because he’s so pure and good and makes us hope so.” And cue the invariably myopic opportunism of David Axelrod and the Obama campaign, which wasn’t content to light the match initially, with their more-in-sorrow “no place in this campaign” statement, but saw fit to email transcripts of Olbermann’s spittle-spewing rant to every press source in their rolodex. The Unity Pony, always a creature of rhetoric and not reality, was out to pasture as usual. Like the Palestinians, when it comes to helping the Democratic Party, Obama has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.)

On a conscious level, of course, her reference was shorthand to remind us that she was around for the political struggles of the ‘60s, when Obama was six and his children-crusaders were not yet gleaming in anybody’s eye. She distilled the most memorable and contentious Democratic primary struggle of modern times into its signal moment – and also picked up on the current 40th anniversary attention to 1968, from Brokaw to Pete Hamill's piece about that night, in the most recent issue of New York Magazine. But below that surface, why should we decide that she was fantasizing Obama’s assassination? If anything, isn’t it more likely she was unconsciously ruminating on the possibility of her own?

If so, it would be with good reason.

One candidate in this race has been the object of an explosion of hatred, threats of violence, imagined rape, demonization and dehumanization, her expressions of emotion sneered at, her treatment of her daughter compared to that of a pimp.

One candidate has been the subject of exuberant homicidal fantasies – in merchandise sold over the Web, in public, on “news” broadcasts.

One candidate’s continued presence has been the occasion for myriad commentators to plumb their mental thesauruses for adjectives and metaphors of disgust and assault. The sheer metaphoric richness of the NC-17 tag cloud that has formed around Clinton makes the discourse surrounding Obama look like Dora the Explorer.

And only one candidate has prompted cultural references of the most sadistic and brutal caste, allusions that speak volumes about their users’ wishes and fears. Glenn Close lying dead in a bathtub – at long last – is but the latest in a litany that constitutes a virtual history of the horror film.

That candidate has not been Barack Obama.

We are witnessing a rising orgy of misogyny. And rise it will. This mob is just feeling its oats – and Obama is entirely incapable of controlling the swelling tide for which he is the pretext… if, in fact, he has any wish to do so. To stem it, to supply the magical uniting pixie dust that is his political calling card, he’d actually have to be a leader, and if we’ve learned anything about him over the course of this campaign, it’s that he is not and never has been that.

I think it’s quite clear that Hillary Clinton is the world political figure in the greatest physical danger today. We don’t have to go back to 1968 in America for a point of reference. We can just flip back to December 27, 2007, in Pakistan (an assassination that, let it be remembered, the Obama campaign laid indirectly at Clinton’s door). Only, to judge from the rhetoric we’ve seen over this past year, the danger Hillary faces comes more from the left than from the right.

This danger is real – to her, and to many more. The beast has been unleashed, and I fear that dark times lie ahead.