Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Deeper Lie

Reflecting on my last post, the one about Frank Rich, has led me to a thoughtstream about PUMA and the hypocrisy of the Mainstream Shrillosphere and the DNC.

First, on Richie Rich. I didn’t quite capture what is really offensive about last Sunday’s column – namely, Rich’s neo-pretense of sobriety. He adopts the affect of the rational, aesthetically sophisticated grown-up, dispirited by the juvenile triviality of the campaign – he calls it a “food fight,” and compares it invidiously to the visionary profundity of Wall-E, and by extension of popular culture. Even a kids’ movie has more to say about our world than these clowns, he tells us.

The biggest problem with that isn’t its intellectual or ideological lie. It’s the underlying and suppressed emotional lie.

Of course, there certainly is an ideological lie here – Rich’s willful obfuscation of the policy differences between Obama and Hillary, and the equally willful avoidance of Obama’s cynical abandonment of principle or consistency.

But the deeper lie is Rich’s posture as a dispassionate observer of the passing parade, a detached seeker of substance and rationality, one who regards politics with the aesthete's eye for dramatic form. The precise opposite is the case. As long as Hillary was in the race, Rich was foaming at the mouth. He hated her, and that hatred came through in every noun, every modifier, every punctuation mark of his pieces – as it did for Dowd, Olbermann, Matthews, Markos, Avarosis, Huffington, Marshall and many others in this new edition of the media-Net echo chamber.

Now, hatred is invigorating when you’re in its grips. And for the verbally clever, it can fuel a metaphoric and adjectival energy that makes for entertaining prose. That’s why so many pundits of the page, the airwaves and the Nettubes cultivate rageoholism. Whether or not they actually feel this rage in their hearts is more or less irrelevant. Hate sells.

Once the party is over, however, once the object of hate has been dragged offstage, the videotape of the orgy isn’t very attractive. People who have joined a pogrom – at least the more mainstream among them – are usually kind of embarrassed the morning after. And these particular dancers around the pyre – Rich notable among them, but far from alone – have been duly and quickly brushing the ashes off their shoulders and shoes… lowering their emotional decibel level and asking all innocent-like what the PUMAs are so hot and bothered about. Kinsley’s faux puzzlement is a serviceable emblem of this.

A clear contrast to this, by the way, is Big Tent Democrat. Even though he supported Obama throughout, and even though he is therefore lumped into the Hall of Shame by some of my fellow PUMAs, he has consistently demonstrated a clear recognition of the reality, virulence and importance of the hatred directed against the Clintons, including the misogyny directed against Hillary. One may disagree with his decision, but one cannot gainsay his clear-eyed recognition of the underlying emotional realities.

So Rich’s deeper lie is to run away from his own intensity of emotional ugliness. He – like the others cited – was never a serious proponent of substance or vision or policy. This whole crew was in the grips of a far darker, stronger and stranger brew. Yes, they have egg on their faces because Obama turns out to be an ideological charlatan who has not simply “tacked to the center,” but abandoned fundamental principle after fundamental principle – not to mention being a far weaker candidate than Hillary would have been. That bill of attainder is damning enough. But even worse – and more important, I think, in explaining the real nature and purpose of PUMA – is the need to deal with the orgy and its aftermath, and with the behavior of the DNC while it was underway.

I can’t speak for Riverdaughter or Anglachel or Lambert or any of the other PUMAs, but for myself, I can say that my refusal to vote for Obama is as much the hope for teaching a lesson to the Democratic Party as it is the fear about an Obama adminstration. I believe the DNC, the media and the lefty blogosphere must be punished for their complicity in this hateful explosion – complicity that extended to disenfranchisement and rigging the results, via the RBC. If the DNC is not punished – if it doesn’t lose the election that couldn’t be lost – then the Party will not have its consciousness raised in the ways I want. It will not change.

It simply must be politically impossible for woman-hatred to succeed in the 21st century Democratic Party.

I am also, by the way, genuinely concerned about what an Obama presidency would be. He has no compass, and I think that Jimmy Carter II is probably an optimistic view of what we’d get. It could be far worse – horrifically worse. Fools rush in, and all that.

But I’m not sanguine about a McCain administration, either. And while I think it’s possible that a divided government would be safer and marginally more progressive than an Obama administration, I can certainly see where that might not be the case.

What I am certain of, however, is that the Democratic Party will not take the necessary step toward rebirth, toward becoming an institution capable and worthy of governing, if it does not get whacked upside the head now. This isn’t petulance. It’s simply saying “No” to something that must be opposed. It’s saying “No” to an unacceptable viciousness. It’s saying “No” to the lack of adult supervision.

Is this, as Kinsley claims, making Obama, the Party, women and the poor pay for Chris Matthews’s sins? No. Obama deserves to lose on his own merits. And the evidence of the past month – indeed, the past year – makes it far from obvious what women and the poor can hope for from an Obama administration. A good case can be made that we will survive a divided government, whose result is likely to be stasis, not catastrophe. But for those of us who believe we need a reborn and serious Democratic Party, its current iteration cannot be allowed to triumph, not yet. It’s not ready.

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