As I've written about before, America's election season degrades mainstream political discourse even beyond its usual lowly state. The worst attributes of our political culture -- obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horse-race "reporting," and mindless partisan loyalties -- become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it -- covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates -- drone on with even less attention paid than usual.
Because most of those policies are fully bipartisan in nature, the election season -- in which only issues that bestow partisan advantage receive attention -- places them even further outside the realm of mainstream debate and scrutiny. For that reason, America's elections ironically serve to obsfuscate political reality even more than it usually is.
This would all be bad enough if "election season" were confined to a few months the way it is in most civilized countries. But in America, the fixation on presidential elections takes hold at least 18 months before the actual election occurs, which means that more than 1/3 of a President's term is conducted in the midst of (and is obscured by) the petty circus distractions of The Campaign. Thus, an unauthorized, potentially devastating covert war -- both hot and cold -- against Iran can be waged with virtually no debate, just as government control over the Internet can be inexorably advanced, because TV political shows are busy chattering away about Michele Bachmann's latest gaffe and minute changes in Rick Perry's polling numbers.
Then there's the full-scale sacrifice of intellectual honesty and political independence at the altar of tongue-wagging partisan loyalty. The very same people who in 2004 wildly cheered John Kerry -- husband of the billionaire heiress-widow Teresa Heinz Kerry -- spent all of 2008 mocking John McCain's wealthy life courtesy of his millionaire heiress wife and will spend 2012 depicting Mitt Romney's wealth as proof of his insularity; conversely, the same people who relentlessly mocked Kerry in 2004 as a kept girly-man and gigolo for living off his wife's wealth spent 2008 venerating McCain as the Paragon of Manly Honor.
That combat experience is an important presidential trait was insisted upon in 2004 by the very same people who vehemently denied it in 2008, and vice-versa. Long-time associations with controversial figures and inflammatory statements from decades ago either matter or they don't depending on whom it hurts, etc. etc. During election season, even the pretense of consistency is proudly dispensed with; listening to these empty electioneering screeching matches for any period of time can generate the desire to jump off the nearest bridge to escape it.
Then there's the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President's exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don't understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you're helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months -- increasing each day in intensity until Election Day -- that every discussion of the President's actions must be driven solely by one's preference for election outcomes (if you support the President's re-election, then why criticize him?).
Worse still is the embrace of George W. Bush's with-us-or-against-us mentality as the prism through which all political discussions are filtered. It's literally impossible to discuss any of the candidates' positions without having the simple-minded -- who see all political issues exclusively as a Manichean struggle between the Big Bad Democrats and Good Kind Republicans or vice-versa -- misapprehend "I agree with Candidate X's position on Y" as "I support Candidate X for President" or "I disagree with Candidate X's position on Y" as "I oppose Candidate X for President." Even worse are the lying partisan enforcers who, like the Inquisitor Generals searching for any inkling of heresy, purposely distort any discrete praise for the Enemy as a general endorsement.
So potent is this poison that no inoculation against it exists. No matter how expressly you repudiate the distortions in advance, they will freely flow. Hence: I'm about to discuss the candidacies of Barack Obama and Ron Paul, and no matter how many times I say that I am not "endorsing" or expressing support for anyone's candidacy, the simple-minded Manicheans and the lying partisan enforcers will claim the opposite. But since it's always inadvisable to refrain from expressing ideas in deference to the confusion and deceit of the lowest elements, I'm going to proceed to make a couple of important points about both candidacies even knowing in advance how wildly they will be distorted.
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The Ron Paul candidacy, for so many reasons, spawns pervasive political confusion -- both unintended and deliberate. Yesterday, The Nation"s long-time liberal publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wrote this on Twitter:
That's fairly remarkable: here's the Publisher of The Nation praising
Ron Paul not on ancillary political topics but central ones ("ending
preemptive wars & challenging bipartisan elite consensus" on foreign
policy), and going even further and expressing general happiness that
he's in the presidential race. Despite this observation, Katrina vanden
Heuvel -- needless to say -- does not support and will never vote for Ron
Paul (indeed, in subsequent tweets, she condemned his newsletters as
"despicable"). But the point that she's making is important, if not too
subtle for the with-us-or-against-us ethos that dominates the protracted presidential campaign: even though I don't support him for President, Ron Paul is the only major candidate from either party advocating crucial views on vital issues that need to be heard, and so his candidacy generates important benefits.
Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform -- certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party -- who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote -- Barack Obama -- advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.
Read the entire article at Salon.