A good analogy to American politics in 2011, a banal period exhausted of energy and hope--devoid of real ideas, color, and personality--is the pre-Elvis pop music scene of the mid 1950s. Having reached the nadir of boredom with Doris Day's hit single "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" (yes, this was actually a major hit!) suddenly, out of nowhere, a wild kid with sideburns from the deep south--who learned to sing and dance in black gospel churches--burst onto the scene to change everything.
Once, we thought Bill Clinton would provide this Presleyan catalyst. In the cruel gray twilight of the Reagan/ Bush I era, with the war against the poor, middle-class, and labor unions in full swing, suddenly this progressive (seeming) politician--with Kennedyesque good looks; and a saxophone playing Presley fan besides!--teased us with a 60s style liberalism we feared was dead and buried.
Too bad that, though he looked like an angel, Clinton turned out to be the devil in disguise. He continued to advance a right-wing corporate agenda, hammering the working class with NAFTA (which outsourced millions of good American jobs), strengthened the criminal industrial complex, and signed the disastrous Telecommunications Bill of 1996, which gave rise to the media monopolies that now dumb down our population with infotainment (see Rupert Murdoch) disguised as news. The real truth is, though Clinton may have fancied himself the Elvis of American politics (his secret service nickname was, in fact, Elvis) in reality, he barely reached Fabian status.
Had he chosen to run (having flirted with the idea several times) Warren Beatty would've provided a Presley-level transformation to our politics. One of the great Hollywood liberals (along with Paul Newman and Robert Redford--when liberalism was cool, imagine?) just watch the film Bulworth if you want a sense of Beatty's vision of a just and caring society.
And so, America waits. It's 1955 all over again. The foils of our deadened and corrupt politics abound, like characters out of Hollywood casting (Sarah Palin, Scott Walker, and even Obama, who sold out the working class), as the people wait desperately--like teenagers huddled in front of the Ed Sullivan Show--the arrival of our new hero.
He (or she) hasn't arrived yet. If I were to take a crazy guess, though, of who might become the Elvis of American Politics, I'd say he hails from a bit further south than Sweet Home Alabama: Cuba to be precise. Last week, when Bob Menendez--America's highest ranking Latino politician--strode confidently to the floor of the Senate to call for an investigation of Rupert Murdoch, I got the chills. Finally, a leader with the jutspa and courage to stand up to the right-wing bullies who are ruining our country.
It was a seismic, electric moment in American politics--like Elvis singing "If I can Dream"--a surge of hope for a better future that still might be.